Energy saving in flight formation

Nature. 2001 Oct 18;413(6857):697-8. doi: 10.1038/35099670.


Many species of large bird fly together in formation, perhaps because flight power demands and energy expenditure can be reduced when the birds fly at an optimal spacing, or because orientation is improved by communication within groups. We have measured heart rates as an estimate of energy expenditure in imprinted great white pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) trained to fly in 'V' formation, and show that these birds save a significant amount of energy by flying in formation. This advantage is probably a principal reason for the evolution of flight formation in large birds that migrate in groups.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Heart Rate