SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

January 16, 2014

Flap artists: Birds sync wing beats in V formation

NEW YORK (AP) — The next time you see birds flying in a V, consider this: A new study says they choreograph the flapping of their wings with exquisite precision to help them on their way.

That’s what scientists concluded after tracking a group of large black birds — each equipped with a tiny GPS device — that had been trained to follow an ultralight aircraft. One expert in animal flight said just gathering the data, which included every wing flap, was a remarkable accomplishment.

Scientists have long theorized that many birds like these rare northern bald ibises adopt a V formation for aerodynamic reasons.

When a bird flies, it leaves a wake. The idea is that another bird can get a boost from an updraft of air in that wake by flying behind the first bird and off to the side. When a bunch of birds use this trick, they form a V.

It’s been difficult to study this in the wild, but researchers from the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College and elsewhere met that challenge by partnering with a conservation program that is trying to reintroduce the endangered wading bird in Europe.

For about a decade, the program has hand-reared ibises from zoos and taught them their migration route by leading the way with a piloted ultralight craft. Normally, the leader of a V-formation would be a parent bird.

With the program’s help, the researchers tracked 14 juvenile ibises as they migrated between Austria and Italy.

An analysis of a seven-minute period showed that when the ibises flew in a V, they positioned themselves in just the right places to exploit the updraft in another bird’s wake, which lets them conserve their energy.

They also appeared to time the flapping of their wings to take full advantage of that updraft, by making a wingtip follow the same undulating path through the air as the wingtip of the bird up ahead. It’s like one car following another on a roller coaster.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Nation/World

Local News
  • 140765_SN_DLE_FESSENDEN4 Special Spaces transforms two downstairs rooms into playroom for Riley Fessenden

    BEVERLY -- What happens when the perfect kid-friendly playroom appears in your house overnight? Beverly's Fessenden kids were mostly speechless when they returned from seeing "The Little Mermaid" on Saturday and got their first look at the playroom t

    July 28, 2014 10 Photos

  • Beverly Hospital courier loses patients’ lab forms

    BEVERLY -- A courier for Beverly Hospital last month lost lab request forms for 54 patients that included names, health insurance identification numbers and, in some cases, Social Security numbers. The courier misplaced the forms, which were in a zip

    July 28, 2014

  • Big plans for three parks in the Point neighborhood SALEM -- One will be overhauled, another created from scratch, and a third will get a spiffed-up community garden. It's a good time to be a park in the Point neighborhood. The densely packed area just south of the city's downtown is on the verge of i

    July 28, 2014

  • Peabody could see school choice profit next year PEABODY -- After three years, the city's schools are projected not only to break even on school choice, but actually make a $30,000 profit. School officials expect to lose just under $300,000 in state aid next year for students who opt to attend scho

    July 28, 2014

  • 140723_SN_DLE_SALVARMY2 Dennis and Susan Knight take over Salem Salvation Army operation

    SALEM -- It was Christmas Eve in Sanford, Maine, but 8-year-old Dennis Knight and his three sisters had good reason to be short on holiday spirit: Their mom and dad had warned them there would be no Christmas that year. The family couldn't afford it.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos