How do birds fly in a flock?

20 March 2013

Question

Beautiful Murmurations - so flocks of starlings flying in the sky. I'd be really keen to understand it a bit more. When I look at the starlings as one moves, the others do to. But how does this murmuration of sometimes thousands of starlings seem to move so gracefully and in such synchrony in the sky?

Answer

We posed this question to hippocampal researcher Dr Hugo Spiers from University College London.

Hugo - Paul is right to ask about it. It's really interesting. If you think about animals navigating as they travel over the Earth from one point to another, they do have to synchronise their movements. They don't knock each other in the air, but it's less of a navigation question. Actually, it's more of a coordinated motor problem. But I guess, the key thing is how do they know that the bird at the front is going in the right direction? And do they all decide the direction like a voting system to make the flock go in the right direction? There must be something going on there. Very hard to study, certainly, very hard to get at the neuroscience how their brain does that.

Hannah - Thanks, Hugo and if you've got any burning questions about your brain and the nervous system, just email them to neuroscience@thenakedscientists.com, you can tweet us @nakedneuroscience, or you can post on our Facebook page, and we'll do our best to answer them for you.

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