Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Flying in a Flock Tires Pigeons

By Magdeline Lum

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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Birds fly around in flocks. They like to be together and it is where the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” comes from. However, an analysis has found that for the pigeon, flying as a flock costs them more energy than to fly alone.

Birds like pelicans and swans fly in V-formations. Research has shown that this gives the birds a benefit in aerodynamics. They don’t need to flap their wings as much and their heart rates drop. This has been extended to flying aircraft in V-formations to reduce fuel consumption.

Pigeons and most other birds, however, do not fly in V-formations. They fly in a flock known as a cluster flock.

Dr James Usherwood of the Royal Veterinary College attached GPS and inertial sensors on a flock of 20 pigeons to take measurements during their flight.

The pigeons were flying voluntarily and flew around in a flock as normally. Usherwood’s team found that pigeons maintained powered banking turns like in aircraft. This creates accelerations up to 2g, meaning that their body weight doubles and their power requirements quadruple during these manoeuvres. It was also observed that pigeons flapped their wings more when flying in groups, in particular when they were flying behind another bird.

It is unclear why pigeons cluster flock given that they do not gain an aerodynamic advantage. However, when flying together in a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.