“What’s That?” Wednesday: Flocking Birds

Large flocks of birds are mesmerizing: they fly overhead in V-formations, they twist and turn in unison, they can even blacken the sky. It is hard for one not to stop and take notice of these arial displays, and wonder what purpose they serve. Why do birds congregate in large groups? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having so many birds gather together? How do they stay and move together with such agility?

Read on to find out a bit more about flocking birds as well as to download printable sheets of useful photos and information about flocks. Each Wednesday, check the bottom of the “What’s That?” post to find a PDF containing a fact sheet about the day’s featured item, as well as photographs and other resources ideal for using in a nature journal, research binder, or lap book.

Hawk hunt-1Red-tailed hawk hunting European starlings

Flock Sparrows-1

Flock of sparrows

geese ducks-1 Mallard ducks and Canada geese

Some interesting things to know about flocking birds:

– Reasons birds flock together:

Protection – with so many birds in one place, often flying together, it is harder for a predator to lock on to one bird.

Foraging – if one bird finds a feeding area the whole flock benefits.

Mating – a wider selection of mates are available increasing the chances for a good match to be made.

Rearing young – many nests, and parents, together help defend young against predators. These nesting grounds are called rookeries.

Warmth in winter – many birds together can take advantage of the heat they each create to keep warm.

Aerodynamics in flight – the lead bird creates wind currents that make flight easier for the birds behind.

– Many flocks are made of single species of birds, but flocks can also be made up of multiple species that work well together.

– There are disadvantages to flocking such as:

Visibility to predators* – a large flock is easier for predators to see.

Competition for food* – larger flocks must find more food to feed the whole flock.

Competition for mates* – with more birds competing it will make it harder to find a good mate (especially for weaker birds).

Spread of disease – greater numbers gathered together can promote the spread of disease quickly throughout the flock.

* Note how being in a flock at different times can have both advantages and disadvantages regards to predators, mating, and foraging for food.

Other resources:

– This amazing video shows how flocking, and a stunning display of arial agility, helps starlings avoid a falcon.

– Here is a short pod cast and post that explains the chorus line hypothesis for how bird flocks move in unison.

– Some birds are so well known for flocking that even their flock has a name. To learn more about flock names click over to this Names of Groups of Birds page and learn some new birding vocabulary.

Click here to download the flocking bird nature journal resource pages to use with your own family.

4 comments… add one

  • Lucia January 15, 2014, 7:03 am

    Great post! One of the things I miss about living in Sicily are the huge flocks of starlings…truly mesmerizing. Like this video: http://vimeo.com/31158841

    • dawn January 18, 2014, 8:37 am

      Thanks, Lucia. We came across quite a few videos that were taken in Italy. It was so neat to see them here out in the backyard, with the hawk hunting them (with no luck I might add).
      That video is awesome. How amazing it would be to see them like that while on the water? Truly spectacular!

  • Jessica January 15, 2014, 10:58 am

    So funny…I just shared my 2012 Snow Geese/Tundra Swans “migration” photos to the Flickr group late last night! They return in February–so I’m planning a trip to photograph them again!

    • dawn January 18, 2014, 8:39 am

      Those photos are amazing, Jessica. That is funny that we were on the same wavelength.
      We would love to see more photos if you make another trip!

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