And when one bird flew directly behind another instead, it appeared to adjust its flapping to reduce the effects of the wake’s downdraft. So birds can either sense or predict the wake left by their flock mates and adjust their flapping accordingly, a remarkable ability, the researchers said.
The scientists reported their results online yesterday in the journal Nature. It’s the first experimental evidence that birds can adjust their flapping to take advantage of the wake, Florian Muijres and Michael Dickinson of the University of Washington wrote in an accompanying commentary.
Kenny Breuer of Brown University, who did not participate in the work, said collecting the study data from the free-flying birds was “quite an astonishing feat.”