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Question:

    Why do geese fly in a V?

Answer:    

    Energy conservation and visual assurance.

Why do geese fly in a V? Because it would be too hard to fly in an S! Just kidding. Scientists have determined that the V-shaped formation that geese use when migrating serves two important purposes:

First, it conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest. The authors of a 2001 Nature article stated that pelicans that fly alone beat their wings more frequently and have higher heart rates than those that fly in formation. It follows that birds that fly in formation glide more often and reduce energy expenditure (Weimerskirch, 2001).

The second benefit to the V formation is that it is easy to keep track of every bird in the group. Flying in formation may assist with the communication and coordination within the group. Fighter pilots often use this formation for the same reason.

Standard DisclaimerRelated Web Sites
  • Breeds of Geese. This website from Oklahoma State Department of Animal Science contains pictures, descriptions, and breeds of geese.
  • GooseRef. This site is an "online bibliographic search system, devoted entirely to the primary scientific literature concerning geese. Currently consisting of ca. 2700 references (mostly papers and thesis titles)..."
  • Migration Basics. The National Park Service provides the basics of animal migration along with a list of references in this website.
  • North American Migration Flyaway. The Nutty Bird Watcher website provides information about the different kinds of North American migration patterns along with maps.
  • NASA'S Autonomous Formation Flight: Follow the leader and save fuel.
    This October 29, 2001 press release provides information about NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center's Autonomous Formation Flight (AFF) project
    .
  • AFF: Autonomous Flight Formation is surpassing project's goals. This article from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards California discusses the findings of the Autonomous Flight Formation Project.

Library of Congress Web SiteFurther Reading
  • Burton, Robert. Birdflight: An illustrated study of birds' aerial mastery. New York, Facts on File, c1990. 160 p.
  • Furtman, Michael. On the wings of a north wind: the waterfowl and wetlands of America's inland flyways. Harrisburg, PA, Stackpole books, c1991. 161 p.
  • Hainsworth, F. Reed. Wing movement and positioning for aerodynamic benefit by Canada geese flying formation. Canadian journal of zoology, v. 67, March 1989, p. 585-589. Also available online at http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/content/abstract/128/1/445.
  • Heppner, Frank H. Avian Flight Formations. Bird-Banding, v. 45, Spring 1974, p. 160-169.
  • Lissaman, P.B.S., and C.A. Schollenberger. Formation flight of birds. Science, 168, May 22, 1970, p. 1003-1005.
  • Kalman, Bobbie. How birds fly. New York, Crabtree, c1998. 32 p. (Juvenile)
  • Todd, Frank S. Waterfowl: Ducks, geese, and swans. San Diego, Sea World Press, c1979. 399 p.

SearchFor more print resources...
Search on "geese," or "geese flying" in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Photo: geese flying in the V formation against a background of yellow sun and red sky.
Geese flying in formation.. Photo
from the NASA Web site.

Photo: two geese in flight, wings outspread.
Lesser Canada Geese in Flight by Donna Dewhurst. From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library.

Photo: geese flying. Snow Geese in flight / Menke, Dave, n.d., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library.

Photo: three goslings in a line, with the mother goose in the background.
Future fliers lined up next to their protective mother. Photo courtesy of V. Cavallo.

Photo: two jets flying over a barron landscape.
Aircraft flying a test point for the Autonomous Formation Flight project over California's Mojave Desert. From the NASA Dryden Flight
Research Center Web site.

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  January 9, 2012
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