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Why Do Geese Fly in a V Formation?

Geese flying in formation against Sky and Moon
Bronwyn Photo/Shutterstock

Watching geese fly together across the sky is intriguing. Have you wondered why they always fly in a V pattern? There’s a reason for it. And geese aren’t the only birds who do it.

It’s interesting to look up when you hear the honk of geese and see them flying in a specific flight pattern. It’s not just a coincidence that the birds fly this way. Just as swarms of small birds flock together and travel in intriguing patterns, there’s a reason for patterned flight.

The Two Purposes of V-Formation Flight

Flight formations aren’t limited to the V-shape, although that seems to be the most common. Birds sometimes take a J-shaped flight pattern as well. A method exists behind the way birds fly together.

Science says there are two main reasons birds fly together in patterns, such as the v:

  • It Helps Them Conserve Energy. The flight of the birds, going from the front of the formation to the back, creates an upwash vortex. This vortex takes some of the pressure off the birds following behind, as they can spend more time soaring and less energy flapping their wings. Depending on the length of the flight, the formation may change (enabling birds toward the front to move toward the rear). Birds have even been observed timing their wing beats with one another to help avoid downwash from birds forward in the formation.
  • It Helps Them Stay in Communication with the Rest of the Flock. The pattern keeps them oriented with each other and enables communication during flight. A specific movement could signify a message to the birds in the back.

Birds don’t always stay in pattern. When it comes to migration, these patterns are essential because the geese or other birds have a longer distance to fly. Shorter flights, like heading out to eat, don’t require as much energy.

Are Geese the Only Birds That Fly in V Patterns?

No, they aren’t. Along with geese, many other migratory birds use this technique in flight. Among them include swans and ducks. Long-distant flights of migration periods require a lot of energy, so that vortex of wind, which is drummed up from flight formations, makes it easier on all types of birds.

Aside from birds, it’s interesting to note that the military uses the V-pattern when flying jets. The concept works much the same as with the birds’ conservation of energy—the jets conserve fuel by “soaring” on the jet streams of the planes in front of them. Also, like birds, the proper flight formation lets the pilots communicate with one another through head nods and hand signals. Even though they may have the ability to communicate through radio, sometimes they need to watch out who can get on the same frequency and hear their plans.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »