Bald ibises flying in V-formation, new research

This video from Austria says about itself:

Migration Project Waldrappteam: Flight Training

24 Feb 2010

In the course of the animal conservation project Waldrappteam ( we handraise juvenile bald ibises and train them to follow their foster parents sitting in microlights. The so trained birds can be teached the way to a appropriate wintering area. Flight training is sometimes hard work … but it works.

From Wildlife Extra:

Technology reveals how and why some bird flocks fly in a V-formation

January 2014: Researchers have attached custom-built GPS and accelerometer loggers to birds on migration and have gained ground-breaking insights into the mysteries of bird flight formation.

The light-weight, synchronised GPS and inertial measurement devices, recorded to within 30cm accuracy where a northern bald ibis was within the flock, its speed, and when and how hard it flapped its wings. The precision of the measurements enabled the aerodynamic interactions of the birds to be studied at a greater level and complexity than ever before.

The research, led by the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, proves for the first time that birds precisely time when they flap their wings and position themselves in aerodynamically optimal positions to maximise the capture of upwash, or ‘good air’, throughout the entire flap cycle.

Dr Steve Portugal, Lead Researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, said: “The distinctive V-formation of bird flocks has long intrigued researchers and continues to attract both scientific and popular attention, however a definitive account of the aerodynamic implications of these formations has remained elusive until now.

“The intricate mechanisms involved in V-formation flight indicate remarkable awareness and ability of birds to respond to the wingpath of nearby flock-mates. Birds in V-formation seem to have developed complex phasing strategies to cope with the dynamic wakes produced by flapping wings.”

Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) that provided the funding for the project said: “This is a fascinating piece of research, providing a scientific answer to a question that I suspect most people have asked themselves – why do birds fly in formation? The results will prove useful in a variety of fields for example aerodynamics and manufacturing.”

Scientists captured the data for the study as the ibis flew alongside a micro-light on their migration route from their summer birthplace in Austria to their wintering grounds in Tuscany, Italy.

Dr Portugal and his team worked with the Waldrappteam, a conservation organisation based in Austria, which is re-introducing northern bald ibises into Europe, where they have been extinct for 300 years.

The 14 juvenile birds used in the study were hand-reared at Vienna Zoo by human foster parents from the Waldrappteam. The birds were then trained to follow a micro-light ‘mother-ship’ to teach them their historic migration routes to wintering grounds in Italy, knowledge they would normally learn from adult birds.

The birds are currently in Tuscany and the team hopes they will remember and make their way to what should be their breeding grounds in Salzburg later this year, without the help of the micro-light this time!

See also here.

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4 thoughts on “Bald ibises flying in V-formation, new research

  1. Pingback: Northern bald ibis in the Netherlands, video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Why birds fly in V-shaped flocks, bald ibis study | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Good endangered bald ibis news from Morocco | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Moroccan bald ibis update | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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