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Many bird species commonly aggregate in flocks for reasons ranging from predator defense to navigation. Available evidence suggests that certain types of flocks—the V and echelon formations of large birds—may provide a benefit that reduces the aerodynamic cost of flight, whereas cluster flocks typical of smaller birds may increase flight costs. However, metabolic flight costs have not been directly measured in any of these group flight contexts [Zhang and Lauder, J. Exp. Biol. 226, jeb245617 (2023)]. Here, we measured the energetic benefits of flight in small groups of two or three birds and the requirements for realizing those benefits, using metabolic energy expenditure and flight position measurements from European Starlings flying in a wind tunnel.


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