Why Do Geese Fly V Formation?(And where do they go?)

geese flying at sunrise

Why Do Geese Fly V Formation?(And where do they go?)

I remember when I was really young, I used to look up at the sky and always wondered where all the birds were going and why they always flew in strange patterns. I remember thinking how amazing it must be just to fly like a bird and heading somewhere in my imagination. The truth however is that during the winter months, A great big horde of them come down from the Vast white north to their Winter stomping grounds which could come in the shape of a field or an icy cold stream. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to walk anywhere during this time without tripping over a Canadian Goose somewhere.

You may even see them flying overhead in a big V formation, why, you may ask do they fly in this pattern?? No, it’s not because all the other letters were taken. Scientists have shown that flying in a V shape makes group travel easier and much more efficient. Back in 1970, A couple of Aerospace Engineers (Peter Lissaman and Carl Shollenberger)surmised that flying is this manner aids the goose in flying in a much more conservative manner because it saves energy and extends the gooses distance capacity.

The Science Behind The Flying

They suggested that each goose generated an updraft from each of their wingtips and if each bird maintains equal distances apart, would benefit with less energy expenditure and a further flying distance could be achieved than it could by flying alone. As a goose flies, air moves around its wings creating circular pockets of air (Also known as Vortices, see illustration) These vortices push the air upward and downward in different areas therefore creating an updraft so when the trailing goose flies into this space, gets the benefit of this air movement by sustaining its altitude and energy levels. If geese fly in a group and organize themselves in the correct manner, then everyone behind the leader will get an extra lift so they don’t have to flap as hard and keep up their forward momentum. The less that they flap, the more energy they conserve and the farther they will be able to fly for a much longer period.

But What about The Lead Goose?

From calculations that Mr Schollenberger completed, it appears that the leader bird does little or no more work than the others, Mr Schollengereger went on to say that as a matter of fact if the geese flew in a straight line(Abreast)the center bird would still receive the most uplift. In a V formation with the birds in both flanks, the updraft extends forward,enabling the lead bird to acquire sufficient lift to maintain its flight levels.


So Why Do(Canadian)Geese Migrate Anyway?

Birds migrate for a number of reasons but the two majors would be availability of food and the proximity of nesting locations. Birds that l live in the northern hemisphere tend to migrate to the north to take advantage of the large insect population and the new budding cycle of plants along with a large choice of nesting locations, As Winter nears and the insect population starts to drop off then the birds start to make the journey back south again to a warmer climate and thus avoiding the northern winter however there are a few bird species such as the Hummingbird that actually don’t mind the cold as long as there is plenty of food around .

Types Of Migration

According to Google, The term, Migration means “ To move from one region (or habitat) to another according to the seasons” One way to think about migration is to consider the distances that birds will travel. There are four Migratory distances.

Blue JayThere are permanent residents that do not have the need to migrate such as the Blue Jay, they find enough food for the requirements without the need to relocate.

Some birds only travel short distances to sustain their food requirements such as traveling from ground level to a side of a mountainside.

Mid range migratory birds will vary in range from one State to several parts of a country.

The long range migratory bird can cover vast distances which can include Canada and the United States to the Winter grounds of Central and South America and even though these distances can be enormous, there are some 350 species of birds that take to the skies every year for the journey.

So How Do Birds Know Which Way To Go?

It’s pretty amazing when you think about it, for example, how does a first year migratory bird know exactly where to fly to on their own despite the fact that they have never been to their winter home before and if that’s not incredible enough ,then they return the next Spring exactly to the same place that they were born.

We are still yet to fully understand what birds used to navigate but some studies has revealed that in a lot of instances, birds can use external metrics like the sun and stars to navigate by.

It’s also believed that they have a heightened sense of awareness of the Earth’s magnetic field and use this to maintain their bearings. There’s even evidence that suggests that they use the setting sun and other landmarks to navigate by. Smell may also play a part as demonstrated by some species of homing pigeons.

Is Ornithology Your Thing?

People from all over the world have found birds fascinating, particularly in the fields of habitat, physiology and conservation. The ABA ( American Birding Association)welcomes new members who have an interest in the field of Birding and have year round events to keep even the most avid Birdwatcher engaged.

OH By the way, if you are interested in bird migration, here’s a site that will give you the when, where and how of our bird movements. Click Here

If you found this information useful or even if you would like to leave a comment of your own , just drop me a line below.





  1. Hello Keith,

    This is an interesting piece of article.
    I never know about so much science behind birds or goose, in particular why they fly in V form, their community structure.
    I heard something about their migration for food, but wonder how they get back to the same location. Perhaps animals are born with their own GPS in order to survive.

    Thank you for sharing. It’s much appreciated!


  2. Hi Keith
    This is a cool article. These creatures have an amazing intelligence.
    Now that you mentioned that they use their sense of smell and memory of landmarks to return to their original place after the migration is cool.

    It’s so interesting to learn about the dynamics that are involved when they fly in a V-shape. I am always by the God’s creatures.

    It’s always something to marvel at that.

    I will definitely be following your blog to learn more.

  3. Hi thanks for writing this article. It’s so informative . I learned some things i didn’t know about why the the birds fly in a certain formation, and migrate to place to place. It’s funny that you have a picture of a Blue jay as it happens to be my favorite bird it’s so peaceful to look at, and i like the noises it makes.

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