Ducks tend to fly in a V formation when they travel in groups. It’s a pretty common sight if you live in an area with ducks, or live within the path of their migration pattern. But why do they do this, is there a scientific reason behind it?
More Than 1 Reason
There are actually a few reasons for their curious flight formations. The first is that it helps ducks and geese to conserve energy during long migrations. Excluding the individual leading the group, each bird trailing behind the other benefits from a reduction in wind resistance. The birds are deliberately tailgating each other. It’s the concept of drafting, best known to those gutsy people who drive close behind semis on the freeway to stay out of the wind and boost their fuel efficiency. Race cars in NASCAR do this as well.
The next time you see ducks or geese flying in a V, watch them for a bit to see if the bird out front changes positions. Whichever one is up front is working the hardest, will make a strategic switch. The leader will drop back – usually all the way back, where wind drag is lowest, and a rested duck will come to the front. While there is no single, unchanging leader for a V of birds on the move, it is the oldest, experienced individuals who are calling the navigational shots, using the sun and the stars at night to orient themselves and stay on course.
The Check Mark
Something else you might notice is how the V changes shape. Sometimes it looks more like a check mark, with one bird flying lead, two or three birds trailing on one side, and the majority of birds strung out on the other. This too is a strategy for dealing with wind. It usually means a crosswind is blowing and the short side of the formation is taking the brunt of the wind, while on the long side, the birds are attempting to shield one another from it.
The second reason for birds to fly in formation is that this orientation allows the birds to communicate more easily. The V formation provides the birds with good visual contact of each other to keep the flock together. This communication keeps the flock together and minimizes the possibility of losing birds along the way as the formation crosses vast distances during migration.