Why do Flocks of Birds Move In Unison?
We’ve all seen flocks of birds move in unison and marveled at their precision, but how do they do it and why?
According to zoologist Wayne Potts, publishing in the journal Nature in 1984, the birds don’t follow a leader or even their neighbor, as some might suspect. Instead, the birds anticipate the movement, which then spreads like a wave throughout the flock.
Potts called the phenomenon a “manoeuvre wave,” and noted that it could start slow, but picks up speed as it travels through the flock. Potts analyzed high-speed film, frame by frame, of images taken of red-backed sandpipers for his study. He discovered that the flock responded to birds that banked into rather than away from the flock.
Such a response is logical because the purpose of the flock is to protect individual birds from predators and to locate food. So, like most things in nature, the manoeuvre wave is just as useful to birds as it is beautiful to behold.