The flocking movements of homing pigeons are governed by a pecking order. Higher-ranked birds have more influence over how the flock moves. Leading birds change directions first, and followers swiftly copy the leader's movements. And birds at the front of the flock tend to make the navigational decisions. In other words, the pigeons follow the leader. Or leaders.
Pigeon Flocks Follow the Leader
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote. [Wings flapping, suggesting a flock overhead]
Have you ever looked up at a flock of birds in flight and wondered, “Who’s in charge? How does the flock know which bird to follow?” Recent research on flocks of homing pigeons has shed some light on this very question. [Rock Pigeons cooing] Scientists outfitted each bird in a small flock of pigeons with a miniature backpack holding a rapid-fire GPS. The flock was set free to fly together. [Sound of pigeons being released] Then, the scientists analyzed the GPS data from a series of flights.
They found that the birds’ flocking movements were governed by a pecking order. Higher-ranked birds had more influence over how the flock moved. Leading birds changed directions first, and followers swiftly copied the leader’s movements. [Sound of wings flapping] And birds at the front of the flock tended to make the navigational decisions. In other words, the pigeons followed the leader. Or leaders.
One expert on pigeon navigation compared the flock’s behavior to that of a professional dance troupe, where the less-experienced dancers in back adjusted their movements by watching the experts in front.
So, the next time you look up at a flock of birds, see if you can tell who’s in charge. [Sound of wings flapping]
For BirdNote, I'm Michael Stein.
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Sounds of the Rock Pigeons cooing provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, recorded by A.L. Priori.
Wing sounds of doves being released Borden disc G5T4 1:40 and flying overhead G5T4 4:25, recorded by C. Peterson
Musical selection: Sonora Poncena Boranda
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org December 2016/2018 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# flight-08-2010-12-29 flight-08
Original research published in Nature, Vol. 464, 8 April 2010, p. 890-894.