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Pigeon Leadership

May 17, 2010

Pigeons use a loose hierarchy to determine which way they flock.


Pigeon leadership. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When it comes to leadership, we might want to take a cue from pigeons. Scientists in England and Hungary have taken a close look at how homing pigeon flocks decide which way to turn, by strapping tiny GPS-equipped backpacks to the birds. Tamas Vicsek of Eötvös University in Budapest led the research. Oxford University zoologist Dora Biro says they wanted to know whether one bird consistently led, or whether any bird could do so.

DORA BIRO (Oxford University):
What we found was something in between these two extremes, so it was neither a single-leader scenario nor a completely democratic process.

Biro says they found a definite hierarchy, with certain birds doing most of the decision-making – but one that allowed for occasional input from lower-ranking birds. The fact that the system is so efficient suggests that it may be a good model for group decision making. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.