Have you ever looked up in the sky to see a “V” soaring above your head? No, not a flying alphabet — a flock of birds in formation!

Why do birds seem to prefer the letter V? Spread your wings and let’s join the flock to find out the answer.

While not all birds migrate, more than half do. These birds are called “migratory birds.” The reasons birds migrate vary but typically involve availability of food or weather.

In the northern hemisphere, many birds migrate south during the winter months when the weather becomes too cold for them to survive in their northern habitats. Once spring arrives, the birds return to their homes.

Equally as varied as the reasons for migrating are the ways in which different migratory birds make their journey. Some birds migrate alone, others travel in pairs and many move in large flocks.

Song birds often migrate in swarms, while larger birds, such as geese, migrate in formation. Many times this migration takes the form of the letter V.

The reason birds prefer to fly in a V shape has puzzled researchers for many years. There are two general theories to explain the V-shaped phenomenon.

The most accepted theory is that the formation of a flock influences aerodynamics, making it easier for the birds to fly. As the birds flap their wings, the air flowing off their wing tips gives birds in the back of the V an extra lift. This reduces the amount of energy the birds need to fly.

Over the course of the migration, birds take turns leading the front of the V, the most difficult position. When a bird has tired of leading, it falls to the rear of the V, where there is the least wind resistance.

Rotating through various positions in the V maximizes the use of each bird’s energy, allowing flocks to fly for long periods of time without having to stop.

The second theory suggests flying in a V offers each bird an unimpaired line of sight as the flock flies through the air. This makes it easier for the birds to keep track of each member of the flock. Groups of fighter pilots often arrange their planes in V formation for the same reason.

 

14 Join the Discussion

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  1. Birds flying in a V is like NASCAR cars drafting. One car gets close behind another so the wind goes around both cars. The front car works harder like the front bird. When the back car needs to pass it has more gas and energy. Pretty cool.

    • We think that is pretty cool, too, Grant! Thanks for adding some more interesting facts about bird migration formations!

  2. Funny you said NASCAR – I was thinking bicycle racing. This video is wonderful, from it’s landscapes to seeing the wings of the geese move ever so powerfully and gracefully. Talk about full of wonder – how did this get taped? That would be fun to know.

  3. Hi, Wonderopolis! Before I read this article, I did not know why birds fly in a V shape. I learned two theories to explain the V shaped phenomenon. I think by looking at their V shape, we can figure out who the leader is and who the follower is in the flock. I am wondering how birds decide the order or position in the V shape.

    • That’s a SUPER great question, Hannah! We’ll all have to do a bit more WONDERing about that one! Thank you for being an AWESOME Wonder Friend! :-)

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed the video for this Wonder of the Day®, Noliver! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis and letting us know what you think! Have a GREAT day! :-)

  4. I had the most unexplained experience from a migration but watching this formation of V is uncomparably the best but comparably humorous! The song is as precious as my love in the swan hearts ..love at first sight for always, not just the first. Thank you for my most inspired memory in the Geese-from “winged migration” Wonderpolis #28.

    • Wow, we are so happy you enjoyed our Flying V Wonder, Marcia! We hope you get to experience that cool formation again– it is certainly a breathtaking sight! Thanks for commenting today, we hope you have a WONDERful day! :)

    • Thanks so much for sharing this awesome information, Javid! We will Wonder even more thanks to your great comment! When we look up and spot a flying “V” we know why! :)

  5. I think it is because the leader or strongest bird will start the V, and so the wind does not reach the other birds. My Mom told me that. She is a Science Teacher. My personal thinking is that the birds have special times where they switch connecting to my Mom’s hypothesis.

    • WONDERful, Caris! These are some excellent thoughts! You’re very lucky to have a Mom who’s also a teacher… a Science Teacher! How cool is that? Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Wonder Friend! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why do some birds migrate?
  • Why do some migratory birds fly in formation?
  • What does the world look like from a bird’s-eye view?

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Try It Out

For birds, migration is a bit like taking a vacation. Imagine you are a bird on a tropical vacation. Your penguin friends in Antarctica, who cannot fly, have requested that you send them a postcard recounting your migration adventures.

What did you see as you flew through the sky? What did you talk about with your fellow bird travelers? Did you meet any other birds? What cities did you stop in along the way? If you’re feeling artistic, you can even draw a picture of the view you saw from the sky.

 

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