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Precision and Dynamics of Positioning by Canada Geese Flying in Formation


A method is described for reconstructing perspective-distorted film images of geese flying in V formations to allow measurements of wing tip spacing (WTS, the distance between wing tips of adjacent birds perpendicular to the flight path) and depth (the distance along the flight path between birds). Measurements for eight formations are used to test for savings in induced power from wing placement in a vortex field generated by other wings, using the model of Lissaman & Schollenberger (1970) to estimate savings. The median WTS for 55 geese corresponded to an induced power saving of 36%, about half the maximum possible. There was considerable variation in WTS between and within formations. Some birds maintained WTS close to an optimum for saving energy; others maintained WTS with excessive gap. Birds at the apex and those at large depths achieved low energy savings. Savings were enhanced by periodic changes in flight direction in response to variations in the position of the bird ahead. Individuals in some formations adjusted WTS more rapidly when they were displaced a greater distance from the optimum, and some position adjustments appeared to reflect the distribution of savings predicted from vortex theory.