Why do birds fly in a V formation?

Eurasian cranes in a V formation.

Anyone watching the evening sky knows that many migrating birds fly in a V formation, but science has been in a constant debate so as to why?

The latest research shows some light on the possible reasons. We will explore the same in our article. 


A V formation is the symmetric V-shaped flight formation of flights of ducks, geese, ducks, and other migratory birds, enhancing their energy efficiency. Usually, large birds fly in this V formation since tinier birds create more complex wind currents that are difficult for the birds in the back to take advantage of.


The V formation perhaps improves the flying bird’s efficiency, particularly over long migratory routes. This enables the birds to take the upwash lift force due to the wingtip spirals at the tip of the wings of the lead bird.

The upwash assists each bird in maintaining its own weight in flight; in the same way, a glider can climb or keep height lightly in rising air. The birds can find the place where the uplift is the most alluring either by sensing the airflow by their feathers by sight, scientists speculate.

Flight characteristics

Some birds prefer to fly in a V formation at the left, some at the right, and some at the center. The birds flying at the tips and at the front are rotated in a timely cyclical fashion to spread flight fatigue equally among the flock members. Canada geese, ducks, and swans commonly form a skein in V formation. Thus, the flight formation variates around a V-liked shape and does not stay constant.

Flying in V formation is not only about the position but also about the timing of flapping. The birds behind will sync with the flapping pattern of the leading bird to follow the trail of upwash left by the bird at front. Whenever a bird flies to be directly behind another, it will reverse the flapping pattern to counter the downwash force.

Through an experiment with ibises, researchers found that flying in V formation is a skill that they were not born with. When they first flew together, they did not fly in a V shape. However, over time, they started learning how to fly in this formation as if they were self-taught or learned by observing other ibises.

Birds that Fly in V Formation

This list is not complete as it does not cover all the known birds that fly in V formation.

  • Swans
  • Geese
  • Cranes
  • Gulls
  • Cormorants
  • Pelicans
  • Ducks
  • Ibis

Now You Know

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