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Why Do Geese Fly In The Shape Of A 'V'?

Jane Lindholm
Geese fly in a V formation to take advantage of the windbreak provided by the lead bird. They take turns at the head of the V.

How do birds fly? Why do they flock? How do they not get shocked when they sit on telephone wires? The Bird Diva has our answers to all of your questions about our feathered friends. And why do chickens lay different colored eggs? We visit the hen house at Shelburne Farms to find out.

"Why do geese fly in the shape of a 'V'?" - Jack, 9, Hinesburg, VT

"You have to fly a really long distance when you are migrating, and you have to conserve as much energy as possible. If you flap your arms, and keep flapping, you're going to get tired pretty quickly. But if you work as a team together, you can decrease the amount of energy you have to use. When you fly in a V, what the geese are doing is they are drafting each other. They are providing a wind break for the bird in front of them. So they stack up just right: a little bit above each other and next to each other in order to take advantage of breaking the wind, and then the wind that's coming off of the goose's back in front of them, which we call an upwash or an updraft. They flap together, and they fly together and they take turns. That goose that's out front leading the way and breaking the wind will drop back and someone else will take that place in order to give that goose a little bit of break and a chance at taking advantage of the updraft."

"How do geese know how to migrate south for the winter?" Zaelen, 4, Monkton, VT

Credit Photos courtesy parents of Jack, Zaelen and Mira
Jack is 9 and lives in Hinesburg, Vt. Zaelen, 4, lives in Burlington, Vt., and Mira lives in Oakland, CA.

"We get to this stage in the spring or the fall (because there is migration on both ends of the season) where [migratory birds] start to get restless. This thing takes over their body and they just know they have to move. It's called zugunruhe, a German word for that restless feeling birds start to feel that as the seasons change. It gets dark earlier in the evenings. It's dark when we get up in the mornings so we have this light change that's really different. Those are some of the seasonal cues that tell birds that it's time to move, and also that it's time to eat. These birds have to eat a lot of food in order to provide enough energy to be able to fly. Imagine you're a kid who weighs 70 pounds. You have to double your body weight to get ready to migrate! They need to move from a place where they aren't finding the resources they need--food--to a place where they are going to find more resources. As plants start to die off for the wintertime and lakes and bodies of water freeze over, birds have to move."

"How do birds fly?" Mira, 6, Oakland, CA

Credit courtesy from parent
Siblings Rowan, 4, and Maeda, 7, lives in Durham, NC. They want to know how birds can sit on electric wires without getting shocked.

"Birds can fly because they are designed in a way to do so. That's the most basic way to think about it. Their bodies are shaped in a way to be able to fly; they have special features that allow them to fly and allow them to be able to take advantage of places that other animals can't. That allows them to feed differently and to escape predators, too. Over time, birds evolved in response to those things: avoiding predators and being able to live in different parts of a habitat in a way that no other animal can. Having wings, having feathers, having a tail and having feet that can provide all those features that allow you to take off, to stay aloft in the air, to land, to stop, to turn."

-Bridget Butler, the Bird Diva

Credit courtesy Marina's dad
8-year-old Marina, from Palm Beach Gardens, FL wants to know why chickens lay different color eggs.

Listen to the full episode for answers to more bird questions: Why do birds fly in groups all the time. Where do they migrate in fall? How can birds sit on electrical wires and not get shocked? Plus, Cat Wright of Shelburne Farms explains why chickens lay different colored eggs.

Credit Melody Bodette / VPR
Chickens lay eggs that are brown, white, or even blue. Tina, a Golden Lace Polish hen, lays small white eggs.

Read the full transcript.


Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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