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Jan 15, 2014 01:54 PM EST

Birds Fly in V-Formation With Ultra-Precise Wing Flapping to Preserve Energy (PHOTOS)


A new study analyzing close-up shots of birds flying in a V formation has resulted in understanding why it is they choose that distinct pattern.

The researchers told USA Today that, while flying the shape of a V, the birds' wing flaps synch perfectly with one another, minimizing their energy output, according to aerodynamic theory.

CLICK HERE to see the extreme close-up shots that aided in the study.

The precise formation requires each bird to track its mate's wing stroke and adjust its own to match. Not involved in the study, Kenny Breuer, a professor of engineering and ecology at Brown University, told USA Today, the study "once again remind us that animals are much more complicated... than we often give them credit for.

"They're reacting in very sophisticated ways to maintain these V formations."

Given aerodynamic theory, aircraft vehicles can preserve fuel by flying in a V formation. The scientists used the same theory and model to suggest birds do the same with wing flapping to preserve energy. Study author James Usherwood of Britain's Royal Veterinary College said obtaining data for the study was far from simple.

"It's not something you can do with a pair of binoculars and timing it 'one Mississippi, two Mississippi,'" he said.

Study author Steven Portugal, of Royal College, said to track their results the research team attached lightweight high-precision GPS units to a flock of northern bald ibises. The birds are highly endangered and raised in captivity in Austria only to be reintroduced into the wild. Led by a small motor-driven aircraft vehicle, the flock takes flight.

"It's amazing how quickly they can respond to any changes (by) the bird in front," Portugal said.

Breuer said the research finally confirms with evidence what many experts already theorized.

"To capture that data from the flight of birds in the wild is phenomenal... more than anyone could've hoped for from a live experiment," he said. "It's just reassuring that (the birds) are doing everything they should be doing to save energy."

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