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Why do geese fly in a V formation?

Published Friday, November 04, 2005

Most of us based on our geographical location might have seen large groups of geese migrating while flying in a V formation. Other of us might have only seen this in books or on the television. This formation can be seen when they migrate from their summer homes in Canada, around late fall (autumn) and early winter, to the warmer climate of the southern United States. You may have wondered why they choose this particular regular V-shaped formation pattern. Everything in nature is done for a particular reason even though we might not see the obvious reason for such. Nature teaches us a lot of things, and if we could only just take some time out of our daily busy schedule to ponder, learn and understand things around us whether it be an ant, a plant, a bird, our general surrounding and so on, we would be much more wiser individuals and leaders in this world. This article will therefore answer the question above and also quickly look at how we can learn and apply this natural phenomena to better our daily lives.

So, why do they fly in this particular formation? Over the years scientists have came up with theories of why migratory birds such as geese fly in a V-shaped formation. A study done sometime back also shed some light on this particular V formation. This study discovered that birds flying in a V format had lower heart rates than bird flying alone. Why? The aerodynamic V shape formation reduces the air drag (air resistance) that each bird experiences when in flight in comparison to a bird flying solo. This allows them to cover longer distance (thousands of miles) with much less effort. For example, geese can achieve a greater distance of about 70 percent when flying in groups than each flying solo, using the same amount of energy. In this formation, the bird in the lead position will experience a greater air resistance and will have to work a little harder, however, when the lead bird is tired it falls out of position and goes behind into one of the V position lines. Another bird from behind will then quickly move forward into the leading position thus, maintaining the V formation. The same happens for those birds in trailing positions especially those at both extreme ends of the V formation, since they tire more quickly than those in the middle. This cycle continues as they travel to their destination. Thus each bird gets the opportunity and responsibility to be in the lead position as well as enjoying the middle position since less air drag is at this position. This enjoyment of less air resistance comes as a result of the birds in front creating and improving the aerodynamics of the others behind which continues along the line of V. In other words, this formation breaks up the air, which then flows over the rest of the group more easily. This means all birds benefit individually while working harmoniously as a team. Working as a team means less work for each bird because flying requires a lot of energy especially for birds traveling a very long journey. This formation therefore help migratory birds such as the geese to use their energy efficiently and effectively to achieve one goal - to reach there destination. All members of the team plays their part and mutually benefits from this. How do they keep this formation? If a bird should shift out of position then that bird will suddenly feel the air drag of going solo and quickly get back into the line of formation. This demonstrates how team work plays a very important and useful role in nature.

There are other benefits of flying in this V position. Every bird in the group fly in the field of vision all other members. This helps in keeping track of each other in the group. This also makes it conducive to the members in the group to communicate with each other while in flight. For example, if one bird should become sick or has been injured by some means such as being shot, then, that bird will fall out of formation. This will then result in two other geese falling out with the wounded goose to help and offer protection and will remain until that bird recovers or dies before rejoining the others. It is important to note also that military jets fly in this V formation for the same reasons. Each fighter pilot can see, communicate and help each other while in flight working as a team. Also, NASCAR race car drafts another car to reduce the air resistance on their car.


From this article we not only learn of the reason for the V formation of geese in flight but also learn the importance of team work that nature teaches us. This demonstrates that ‘No man is an island’. Time will not permit me to go through the article to explain in detail what can be learnt from this. However, it is self explanatory the social benefits that can evolve from us working together as a human race. There is a lot we can learn from nature if we only take the time to be more observant. We need to not only work together but support each other to achieve a common goal. Also, working as a team, encouraging and supporting each other lets us accomplish amazing goals with much less effort. “No man is an island”, and we do need each other for the human race to exist. All of us have a role to play in society and the world at large - “All for one and one for all”.

To elaborate on this discussion you can read this excellent article on What geese have to do with lessons in leadership by Lt. Col. Molly J. Kusik - 11th Medical Operations Squadron commander.

Additional information and reading on geese:

Breeds of Geese - descriptions and pictures for several breeds.

Wikipedia - Information on Geese

Canada Goose - A website with some information on Canada Goose.

True Geese of the World
: The Anser Species

Canada Geese
- a site about Canada Geese.

Fast facts on goose - Did you know?

  • An adult goose eats up to 4 lbs of grass daily.
  • Life Span of up to 24 years.
  • Domestic breeds of geese are not generally capable of flight.
  • Mating is for life. If a mate is lost, a new mate is often found.
  • Geese mix and interbreed with all other types of geese.
  • Geese generally return to their same nesting and birth place every year.
  • An adult goose drops 2 lbs of fecal matter daily.
  • Eggs are laid in March/ or early April - a group of eggs are called a clutch.
  • Incubation period is 25 to 30 days.
  • Baby Geese are called Goslings.
  • Nests are built from twigs, bark, grasses and lined with soft feathers usually on the ground near water.

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I've always wondered that too. Thanks for sharing the info.

That's so smart, loyal and co-operative of them. More so than most humans!

Very nice post. Always great to learn something new.


Divine Calm:
Glad that I could be of some help there :)

Thanks for the visit and do come again.

Take care.

You are so right there Furkids. We can learn a lot from them.

Thank you very much for the compliment. I glad that you not only found it interesting but learn something new :)

Bye for now.

nice informative post... thanks..

cool post

Thank you for the compliment and for stopping by.

Thank you very much.

Thank you always great to stop by,
so much reading. What a great blog.
my hooman said r-edmondson very interesting.

That's cool. We have canadian geese at a pond behind my house. Just the other day a friend and I had been talking & wondering why they flew in a v. Interesting... Now I know!


Sam I Am:

Thanks very much for the compliment! You have a great site yourself :) Thanks for stopping by and take care.


Thanks for stopping by. I am more than grateful that I could be of help with that pondering! :)

Have a great day.

I just wonder how the geese have learned this behavior. It seems to be so complicated. Is this behavior learned, or has it become so ingrained that flying in this formation has somehow become innate. Sort of like how pointer dogs point without even being taught.

Fantastic! I've always wanted to know what they did that. Absolutely brilliant article, well done :)

Really it's worthfull information,
I appreciate your effort,
I think it's good lesson for team spirit
I'll come you back with additional information
Till meet again
Best wishes
Stay well

I have searched but cannot corroborate the fact about two geese dropping out of formation to be with a wounded bird. The only reference I can find to this effect is written by an author unknown. I suspect it's a result of someone taking some creative license. I like the story and was going to use it, but I'm afraid someone will ask for a reference. I know I would!

A nice story. It is a pity that most of it is urban mythology.

It was invented by management consultants. In actual fact birds always follow one of a very limited group of leaders, whether they fly in formation or not. This applies to geese, pelicans and racing pigoens.

This is a mixture of fact and myth. There is an aerodynamic benefit in flying in a Vee formation of a particular shape. there is a safety benefit (from improved overall visual field) of flying in a different shaped Vee. Geese fly in between the two, sacrificing some of each benefit but still benefiting from both.
I have been unable to find any observation that geese take it in turns to take the lead position. On the contrary there are plenty of observations that suggest that there are only a few leaders, often only one. Even birds that do not fly in formation (such as pigeons) regularly follow a single leader/

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Today I saw a large flock that would fly in/out of formation. While out of formation they would become extremely loud and the whole flock looked like it was flying in circles, as if something were wrong. They were doing this outside of my house for about an hour, in/out of formation, then they would fly around in circles together... finally they formed and flew on their way. Just made me think what was causing them to do this. So i decided to google and came across this website. :)

I have frequently noticed one leg of the v formation is longer than the other and wondered if this was for aerodynamic purposes.

One of the best articles i have read.I Like your effort and hardworking.
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