Monday, January 20, 2014


Decoded: Why Birds Form a V to Fly

By IndiaTimes | January 17, 2014, 4:24 pm IST 

LONDON: Birds fly in a distinctive V formation to arrange themselves in "aerodynamically optimum positions" while precisely timing the flapping of their wings, scientists have found. 

Flying in a V formation helps each bird take advantage of "good air" (upwash) thrown up by the wings of the flyer in front while avoiding detrimental 'bad air' (downwash), according to researchers from the University of London's Royal Veterinary College.

They found that birds also flap their wings at just the right time so as maximize an updraft and minimize a downdraft. 

These aerodynamic accomplishments were previously not thought possible for birds because of the complex flight dynamics and sensory feedback that would be required to perform such a feat, researchers said. 

"The distinctive V-formation of bird flocks has long intrigued researchers and continues to attract both scientific and popular attention, however a definitive account of the aerodynamic implications of these formations has remained elusive until now," said Steven Portugal, lead researcher at the Royal Veterinary College. 

The intricate mechanisms involved in V formation flight indicate remarkable awareness and ability of birds to respond to the wingpath of nearby flock-mates. "Birds in V formation seem to have developed complex phasing strategies to cope with the dynamic wakes produced by flapping wings," Portugal said.

Researchers studied a free-flying flock of northern bald ibises as they flew alongside a microlight on their migration route from Austria to Italy.

Note:   "What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals." (Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2.)

Really?  It seems utterly natural and logical to me (without needing to press the "infinite in faculty" standard into service) that birds would have a pretty good idea how to devise optimal flight patterns for themselves.  The contrary view, which seems to have been disproven, is stupid, coarse, vain and human, all too human.  Lazy self-satisfaction is so ugly.  

With pleasure, let's all recall and recite John Cage's words about birds both as statement of fact and aspiration that we humans finally evolve in our understanding and compassion:

"We are as free as birds. Only the birds aren’t free. We are as committed as birds and identically."



  1. Haha...this was quite amusing Curtis..As advice do not visit Indiatimes...It is blatantly stupid at times..So much so that they had recently published an article where a rooster and a hen had got their 'post-date' behaviour 'on' in front of a disgruntled old man and a neighbourhood he woke up early morning,to witness the banality in its vulgar,immoral visage..Shocking...A reportage on a rooster fucking a hen..haha..Guess that V-shaped thing wasn't clear to them for a aren't a lot of other things..

    1. Hi and thanks. The India Times article turned up either on Refdesk (which I use as my computer home page) or Yahoo News -- I forget which -- and I think basically is just a slightly abbreviated reprint (good for blogging purposes) of slightly longer treatments of the subject, which appeared in the UK press and now the US press. It's nice to hear from you. As you may know, it's a national US holiday today, which means the rest of my family is still sleeping away (my daughter has a nice break from her exam schedule), but I've already been through my first contract and am about to write my first legal memo. I've always loved the John Cage quote, but as I said, it's aspirational. I try to feel free; I try to act committed. I suppose it's a "process," as they say. Curtis