The site navigation utilizes arrow, enter, escape, and space bar key commands. Left and right arrows move across top level links and expand / close menus in sub levels. Up and Down arrows will open main level menus and toggle through sub tier links. Enter and space open menus and escape closes them as well. Tab will move on to the next part of the site rather than go through menu items.

The Buzz

Nature Curiosity: How Do Flocks of Birds Coordinate?




(Photo by Chad Merda)

Most everyone has seen — or heard — a flock of Canada geese noisily pass overhead in their V formation. So why do these birds fly in groups, and how do they do it?

Many types of birds gather in flocks, but not nearly as many fly in flocks or formations, according to the National Audubon Society. For example, geese, pelicans and other types of waterfowl often fly in lines or V formations. Canada geese are perhaps the most well-known for flying in formation.

For these migrating birds, flying in groups or formations is a way to conserve energy. The birds in the formation expend less energy flying than they would if flying alone, according to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. In fact, studies have shown that geese flying in their recognizable V formation expend only half as much energy as they would flying alone or in another configuration.

The energy savings is the same phenomenon achieved when jets fly in formation, which uses less fuel than flying singly. When in formation, a bird — or jet — benefits from lift by flying in the updraft created by the birds in front of it. The birds at the front of the formation do not save as much energy as the birds in back because there is no updraft for them to fly in. That's why the bird in the front of the formation will switch places and allow another bird to take the lead when it gets tired.

Of course, not all migrating birds travel in formations. Some, like hummingbirds and sparrows, are too small to achieve any energy-saving benefit from flying in formation, according to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. 

Other birds often congregate in large groups, but not for the purpose of migrating. Most notably, European starlings and sometimes blackbirds and some species of shorebirds congregate in huge masses called murmurations. These aerial displays often seem to defy science, appearing almost fluid-like in their movements. At speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, the birds in these murmurations seem to move as one, making sharp and tight maneuvers as one unit, according to the National Audubon Society. 

 

READ MORE STORIES IN NATURE CURIOSITY SERIES

Murmurations can include hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of birds. When starlings congregate in these spectacular displays, it's usually because a predator is nearby, according to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. When a falcon or another predator is close, the starlings congregate in the murmuration to put distance between themselves and the predator. 

How these murmurations move in such concise, synchronized movements has been the subject of much research through the years. These groupings of birds and their movements involve a complex and not often observed scientific phenomenon called scale-free correlation, the Cornell Lab reports. 

Basically, the birds in the murmuration move as one unit because each bird is influenced by the movement of all the others around it. Unlike birds flying in a V formation, which have an obvious leader, the starlings in a murmuration respond — almost instantaneously — to the birds around them, according to the Cornell Lab. If one bird moves to change course or speed, so do the other hundreds or even thousands of birds. The large-scale result of these correlated movements are the visual displays in which they bird appear to move as one. 

_______________

Stay up-to-date on the happenings in Will County's forest preserves by subscribing to The Citizen, our weekly digital newsletter that provides subscribers with updates on Forest Preserve news, upcoming events, and other fun and useful information for the whole family. If you're only interested in programs, subscribe to The Weekly Five, which outlines the five must-do programs each week. Signing up for either newsletter is easy and free of charge.

Don't Pitch Your Pumpkins; Put Them To Good Use

10/27/2020

Halloween is over, but you've probably still got some pumpkins on your porch. Rather than throw them out with next week's trash, put them to good use. 

Read More


Nature Curiosity: Why Is Blue So Rare in the Animal Kingdom?

10/24/2020

Creatures come in all sizes, shapes and colors, but not all colors are represented equally. Find out why blue is so rare in the animal kingdom.

Read More


Creature Feature: The Creepy, Crawly Wolf Spider

10/19/2020

With eight long legs, eight eyes and fangs for mouthparts, wolf spiders look scarier than they are. In reality, they aren't dangerous at all, and they play an important role in the ecosystem.

Read More


Sign up for a Newsletter