The serenity of a flock’s “V” formation winging their way across continents seeking warmth, food, and shelter is one of many wonders. As children we are in awe. As youth we ignore. As experienced adults we smile to ourselves, quietly acknowledging their beauty and their implicit signal of yet another passing season.
There is more, here, than meets our adult eye. The experts who study such things have determined that the “V” formation is the most efficient that birds can use. It turns out that the leader creates turbulence that makes flying easier for the next bird, and so on. How can this be? Do these birds go to school and take classes in physics? Have they funded studies in which their ancestors have tried a variety of other formations and chose this as the best?
In a very real, and biological sense, the answer to both questions is yes. Yes, each bird has taken classes in flying by being born with genes that explain everything they need to do. Yes, ancestors have done research by trying other formations, dying in the process. They funded the research with their lives. It’s the dying that counts, because those ancestors left fewer offspring behind. And when it comes to species biology, the only thing that matters is how many offspring are left behind.
What is the individual bird thinking? If indeed they can think (another day!) they are thinking, I like being right here. I like being on the edge of the leader’s wing. I don’t like being to the right, or the left. I’m comfortable here.
Here’s something to think about. What makes you comfortable?