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article imageOlder cranes fly best, and guide the young

By Tim Sandle     Sep 27, 2013 in Environment
For efficient migration, what matters is the age of the oldest bird in the group. At least that is the case with cranes. Furthermore, more experienced fliers nudge youngsters from going off course on long flights.
Essentially what biologists have observed is the older crane birds get, the closer they stick to the straight line. Cranes are large, long-legged and long-necked birds in the group Gruiformes. Some species and populations of cranes migrate over long distances. Cranes fly with their necks outstretched; they normally fly during the non-breeding season, forming large flocks where their numbers are sufficient.
To show that different patterns of older and younger cranes, biologists analyzed data from 73 cranes of the species Grus americana, migrating between Wisconsin and Florida.
According to the research published in the journal Science, one-year-old cranes traveling with other birds of the same age, the analysis says, tend to deviate about 76 kilometers from a direct route. But if they fly in a group with an 8-year-old crane, they stray 38 percent less, or about 47 kilometers.
This has led to the conclusion that age and presumably experience mattered more than genetics for efficient migration.
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