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: Hermit creepy crawlies: Two new taxa of wood-feeding cockroach from China

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/… ii/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

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

18 hours ago

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.