A new study of bird migration published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that Northern bald ibises take turns being the leaders of their V-shaped formation during the birds’ dangerous and grueling flights.
Northern bald ibises are highly endangered birds. They were once widespread across Southern and Central Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East, but around 300 years ago, the birds disappeared completely from Europe. Around 500 wild birds remain in Southern Morocco and 10 in Syria. Numerous reintroductions programs are being carried out in hopes the birds would make a comeback.
Bernard Voelkl, lead author of the study, said that V-formation flights and bird migration have fascinated people for thousands of years and the phenomenon was observed by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.
A recent study published by Voelkl and his colleagues revealed some interesting details about bird migration. It appears that forming a V shape help the birds who stay behind the leader save their energy. They also discovered that there isn’t just one bird, the leader that leads the V-formation, but that every single bird in the flock takes the lead for a short period of time.
The scientists equipped a flock of 14 Northern bald ibises with data loggers that had accurate GPS monitors. These loggers could accurately tell the position of each bird within 10 inches in relation to other birds.
The new study showed that out of the whole flock of birds, not a single bird took the top spot for a more extended period of time. It was revealed that each ibis bird spent around a minute at the top of the V formation. When the bird’s time was up, the formation was switched and the next bird in line took its place.
Long distance flights are very strenuous for birds, even those birds that have been doing it for thousands and even millions of years. Studies have shown that about 35% of young birds will die from exhaustion on their first migratory flight.
The results of this new study shows that bird migration, especially ibis migration, is much more complex than it was previously thought and that more research is needed to fully understand how bird migration actually works.
Image Source: Mongabay