The Loh Down On Science

These bald heads prefer wintering in warmer weather

We know why chickens cross roads, but why do geese fly in vees?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:

Probably for the same reason ibises do:  It's aerodynamically efficient!

Meet Steven Portugal of University College London.  He and colleagues tackled the vee question using northern bald ibises.  These endangered birds migrate from Austria to Italy for the winter. 

Portugal's team put custom GPS recorders on 14 birds.  These logged each bird's speed, position, and heading.  They also tracked every wing flap during one 43-minute period.  Essentially, the devices mapped the exact formation of the vee at every moment. 

Afterward, here's what the team's analysis revealed:  Every bird in the vee had synched its flapping with the one ahead of it!   Also?  The birds positioned themselves spatially where aerodynamic theory predicted would be most efficient.  Why there?  Because updrafts of air from the flapping of the bird ahead benefited the bird behind.  Meaning each bird could work a little less hard.  Except the lead bird, that is. 

But that's why it gets paid the big bucks.  I mean bills.  Sorry.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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