Birds are truly fascinating creatures. These little flying dinosaurs are cute, sonorous, and quite fun to observe, thankfully they are nothing like their flying ancestors who would love to tear the flesh right off us. Birds come in various shapes and sizes with varying capabilities and habits. Some spend their entire lives in a certain region of the world, while some migrate to different countries, some are cute little pets who love nibbling on seeds, while others love to dive into the ocean and hunt for fish. Though they have so many characteristics, we have never observed or even heard of two birds colliding into each other mid-flight. This question sparks even more curiosity as birds are often seen crashing into airplanes.
The reasons why they never crash into each other
There are basically three forms of flight in which crashes can happen. According to scientists, each method has a safety protocol.
- Sense of Direction: According to researchers, they do it as simply as we avoid driving into each other by having road laws. For example, we always drive on the right side (left for some countries) of the road and despite where we park our car or wherever we are, we always end up going to the right side of the road. Similarly, birds being subject to thousands of years of evolution have built a sense of direction where to fly whenever another bird approaches them head-on. In a study, researchers conducted an experiment to see how birds would behave if they were to approach each other head-on. Parakeets and Budgies were used in this research. To conduct this test, a long corridor was created with just enough space so that one and a half-bird could fit width-wise. So finally, two birds were placed at each end of the corridor which was about 15 feet long, and then both birds were flown. As the two birds approached each other both veer to the right to avoid the collision. Researchers conducted around 102 flights and in each flight, both shifted their bodies towards the right, in rare cases, they altered their flight altitude. So basically it is us humans who have adopted the rule to remain on the right.
- The Group flight: The previous study established how the birds avoid the head-on crash but what about the time they fly in groups? In this scenario, each bird has their own airflow in a sense which they create by flapping their wings and the bird behind it just follows the air stream that is less turbulent. For example, migrating geese have a hierarchy in their flock, the leader whose muscles are larger and stronger remains at the front while the less strong follow the leader, and the flock is organized in this manner where the weakest members are at the back. They follow the split stream of the bird in front of them and as soon as they start nearing the bird in front of them their own flight is disrupted and thanks to this they never crash into each other.
- Instant communication: This is one of the least understood and studies aspects of bird flight. While in the case of giant swarms that to us humans seem almost chaotic birds have a different way of moving about. According to scientists, birds in these groups are always focused and somehow have constant communication with their seven neighboring birds, so as soon as one bird changes their direction all the seven follows and this is how the entire swarm is structured. In another theory, it is said that birds somehow form this central consciousness while being a part of the group, that they somehow just know where each and every other bird is present and exactly what they are doing. The latter one obviously seems a little extreme to understand, as we humans are unable to achieve such a level of telepathic communication. The closest of this process can be compared to air show pilots who perform phenomenal acts in the air, however, they are communicating to each other via telecoms, and even then in unfortunate events, crashes happen.
Will we ever be able to uncover how birds communicate with one another in those giant swarms? Probably not in the present time. But scientists are constantly observing these groups to uncover more about them. Perhaps with the advanced lightweight cameras, we might be able to get a glimpse of their flight full of traffic.