Have you ever looked to the sky to witness geese flying in a familiar V formation? What is so special about this particular flying pattern? Why do flocks of geese fly in a V shape in the first place? It turns out, the answer has to do with physics.
How Birds Fly
There are four forces that allow something, including birds, to fly, and these include weight, lift, drag, and thrust. A bird’s body is designed so that they can overcome the issue of weight and create lift and thrust while reducing drag so that they can fly. The same principle is also applied to airplanes. Birds are incredibly well adapted to flight. They have several physical adaptations that help, including the following:
- Smooth, lightweight feathers – these reduce weight and drag.
- A beak – reduces weight.
- Enlarged breastbone – helps with thrust and allows the muscles needed for flight to attach to their body.
- Light bones – reduces weight because the bones are hollow.
- Rigid skeleton – assists with thrust and gives the bird’s muscles a place to attach.
- Streamlined body – reduces drag.
- Wings – allows the bird to lift itself from the ground.
Why Do Flocks of Geese Fly in a V Shape?
When it comes to flying long distances, birds have to overcome a lot of adversity. From weather conditions to finding food to fighting gravity, they have developed skills that allow them to make the migration trek year after year.
Geese fly in a V formation because it reduces the naturally occurring downward pull of gravity. When the birds fly behind one another, it creates free lift. In essence, it allows the birds to save energy.
Of course, the bird at the front of the V doesn’t see any of these benefits. In essence, it is “breaking trail” for the other birds, and this can be incredibly exhausting. Therefore, to ensure that the flock has the energy to get to their destination, they will switch out lead birds every so often.
If you’ve ever seen a V that is lopsided and has one side longer than the other, there’s really no explanation for why this occurs. Scientists think that individual birds prefer one side to the other, so they will go to their preferred side. However, no matter what side they are on, they will synchronize their wing flapping to match the bird in front of them, once again an attempt to maintain as much energy as possible.
If any of the birds in the flock become sick or injured, other birds will stay back to assist them in the migration. They will form a smaller V and fly at a slower pace to ensure that every member makes it to their destination.
Other Interesting Facts About Geese
In addition to flying in a V formation, geese are also incredibly interesting animals. Some more interesting facts about these birds are included below.
1. Geese may have been the first poultry to be domesticated by humans. It’s believed the Egyptians accomplished this around 3,000 years ago.
2. Ducks and geese will imprint on humans. This means that if a person is the first thing a duck or goose sees when it hatches, it will follow that person around as if they are their mother.
3. Female geese are referred to as a “goose” while male geese are called “ganders.”
4. Geese are very social animals.
5. A goose’s beak is serrated, which allows them to cut through grass stems.
6. A goose’s diet consists mainly of fresh grass and other greens. They can be incredibly picky also, both in captivity and in the wild when migrating to their destination.
7. Geese are really good at weeding. Early on in agriculture, goose farmers would rent out flocks of geese to cotton farmers to get rid of weeds in the fields.
8. Geese have also been used as guards. They have a protective nature and loud voices. For anyone who has been chased by a goose in a park or other place, they also know geese can be incredibly scary and mean!
Did you like this post? If so, make sure to check out other science articles from the Sporcle Blog. And make sure to test your trivia knowledge with some fun science quizzes on Sporcle. You can start with the quiz below!