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Energy saving in flight formation

Pelicans flying in a 'V' can glide for extended periods using the other birds' air streams.


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 spacing1,2,3, or because orientation is improved by communication within groups4. 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.

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Figure 1
Figure 2: Wing-beat frequency and heart rate of pelicans engaged in various types of flight (mean ± 1 s.d.).

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Correspondence to Henri Weimerskirch.

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Weimerskirch, H., Martin, J., Clerquin, Y. et al. Energy saving in flight formation. Nature 413, 697–698 (2001).

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