The new findings were presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and researchers say that they helped them better understand how these migrating birds survive flying such long distances.
One of the main researchers involved in the study, Bernhard Voelkl, biologist at the Oxford University, notes that the first to observe this phenomenon were the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. But no one could really explain how and why migrating birds do it, until recently.
Robert Trivers is a scientist specialized in evolutionary biology and said that he has been waiting for more than 40 years for researchers to come up with a scientific explanation for this. Trivers mentions that V-formations are too obvious to be purely accidental and a lot of bird species do it, so it must be something really important.
Voelkl and his team wrote in the recent paper that Northern bald ibises fly in a V formation to get an extra lift from the bird that is leading the flock.
According to the study, this saves the birds energy and helps them survive the long flights.
The scientists wanted to find out how do the birds decide which of them will lead the V formation, so they collaborated with Waldrappteam, a conservation group from Austria.
The researchers put data loggers on 14 young ibises, which contain very precise GPS monitors that showed the scientists how the birds moved. The birds were tracked for several weeks.
The experiment revealed that each ibis bird would spend an average of one minute being the leader of the V formation, switching between them so that all the birds got to be at the vertex of the V.
The study showed that in an one hour flight, each bird switched places with its “neighbor” approximately 57 times. During a usual flight, which can last up to eight hours, each bird can switch places hundreds of times.
Voelkl said that the transition would take about a second to be made.
Image Source: rte