How birds of different feathers flock together

Mar 07, 2013
How birds of different feathers flock together
Credit: Shutterstock

(Phys.org) —New research from the Universities of Exeter and Cambridge reveals for the first time that, contrary to current models used to explain the movement of flocks, the differences between bird species and social relationships between individuals play a critical role in determining the dynamics of mixed-species flocks.

The unified behaviour of bird has puzzled scientists for hundreds of years. One naturalist from the turn of the century even suggested telepathy may be involved. There have since been more logical explanations, including mathematical models that show that repeated interactions among individuals following simple rules can generate coordinated group movements. However, these models usually rely on the assumption that individuals within groups are identical and interact independently, which may not reflect reality.

Jolle Jolles, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology and author of the paper, said: "Spectacular can be found in a large range of , and we now know that often these complex coordinated group movements may be the result of individuals following simple rules. However, rarely are the individual characteristics and within them taken into account. Our research highlights that these striking displays of group behaviour are much more complex."

By analysing high-resolution photographs of mixed flocks of rooks and jackdaws (both from the corvid family), the researchers found that rather than individuals interacting in a consistent fashion throughout the flock, interactions depended on between the different species as well as relationships within a species.

The researchers discovered that birds prefer to fly close to members of their own species, and that the larger and more dominant rooks take the lead by flying near the front of flocks. Additionally, the lifelong, monogamous pair bonds that are characteristic of both species seem to be reflected in flight, as birds often fly particularly close to a single, same-species partner.

Dr Alex Thornton, principal investigator of the Cambridge Jackdaw Project, now at the University of Exeter and author of the paper, said: "Together, our findings demonstrate that to understand the structure of groups – such as bird flocks – we need to consider the characteristics and relationships of the individuals within them."

The research, which was funded by the British Ecological Society and the BBSRC, was published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347213000432

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Flamingos need friends too

Mar 04, 2013

UK scientists are embarking on a four-year study of flamingo behaviour to explore how their relationships could be key to improving breeding success and the overall welfare of captive flocks.

Secrets of flocking revealed

Oct 26, 2011

Watching thousands of birds fly in a highly coordinated, yet leaderless, flock can be utterly baffling to humans. Now, new research is peeling back the layers of mystery to show how exactly they do it -- and ...

Pigeon 'backpacks' track flock voting (w/ Video)

Apr 08, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Pigeon flocks are guided by a flexible system of leadership in which almost every member gets a ‘vote’ but the votes of high-ranking birds carry more weight, a new study has shown.

Passenger pigeons help to navigate

Nov 15, 2012

Many animals travel long distances in groups but little is known about how this may influence the navigational skills of individuals.

Starling flocks fly like a single entity (w/ Video)

Jun 17, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- An animal group such as a school of fish or a flock of starlings can seem like a single entity governed by a collective mind. A new mathematical analysis of flight dynamics in flocks of starlings ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.