Why birds fly in V-shaped flocks, bald ibis study

This is a video, in Italian, about bald ibises in Austria.

From Science:

A bit of altruism makes V-shaped flocks of birds possible

By Virginia Morell

2 February 2015 3:00 pm

It seems like a job no bird would want. The leader of a V-shaped flock works the hardest, fighting strong air currents while others save energy by traveling in his wake. So why would any bird volunteer to be in front? From an evolutionary standpoint, helping others makes sense if all the migrants are related. But that’s not always the case with migrating flocks.

To find out how birds manage this dilemma, scientists outfitted a flock of 14 juvenile bald ibises (Geronticus eremita) with GPS data loggers and guided them in an ultralight plane from Austria, where they’d been hand-raised, to Italy on an autumn migration. The loggers recorded each bird’s geographical location, velocity, and position within the flock. Eight of the birds were unrelated, and there were three pairs of siblings.

On their journey, the ibises flew in formations of two to 12 birds, changing positions frequently. The researchers’ analysis showed that the birds were working cooperatively, sportingly taking turns to lead and follow. Indeed, the researchers discovered that the ibises precisely matched the amount of time spent in the lead and trailing positions regardless of their genetic relationship, they report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The birds’ cooperative travels provide a rare and “convincing example” of reciprocal altruism in animals, the scientists say. All the birds had a chance to surf in another’s wake, and all spent time doing the hard work at the front. And they switched positions so often and with such rapidity (taking less than a second to move), that the benefits of cooperating were immediate. The findings may help explain how such “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” behaviors can evolve.

Plan to reintroduce bald ibis in Algeria: here.

17 thoughts on “Why birds fly in V-shaped flocks, bald ibis study

  1. The conclusion could not be more obvious, the birds have a sense of altruism as a contrast the 99% are told to compete with each other either as straight talk or overtly by the 1% as a united front are able as a far as a unity to oppress and control the many, the many just do not get it, the shame of not becoming responsible for their destiny must succumb to the betrayal of self.


      • Thanks for reading! Thinking again about these conclusions regarding the Ibis, I think their behaviour is also very similar to that of penguins, who huddle together for warmth to protect themselves against the Antarctic cold. As time goes on, the birds on the outer edge of the circle change position with those in the middle so that another animal takes the brunt of the blizzard for a while, whilst keeping their companions warm. Altruistic, or just common sense?


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