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New study explores why birds fly in V formation

Ibises flying in formation
Ibises flying in formation
Mark Unsöld

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For those who've wondered why birds tend to fly in a V patterns and how they figure out who goes where, Bernhard Voelkl has some answers.

Voelkl is a professor in the zoology department at Oxford University and he's just published a study on this topic in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It was fascinating that besides being such a familiar sight, we know so little about it," Voelkl said. 

The study focused on the Ibis. The young birds had to be trained on a migration route and were tracked with GPS loggers. Because they were trained, researchers could handle the birds at the end of each day and gather information from the GPS tracker.

Voelkl says the study found the birds fly this way to save energy, and they even take turns leading.

"At the end of the day, all birds were leading the flock for a good amount of time," he said. "Every bird is just monitoring the bird next to it, and after spending several seconds behind this bird, it can take over and then it is leading for a few seconds."