Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Revealed: The mystery behind starling flocks

Date:
July 18, 2014
Source:
University of Warwick
Summary:
The mystery behind the movements of flocking starlings could be explained by the areas of light and dark created as they fly, new research suggests. The research found that flocking starlings aim to maintain an optimum density at which they can gather data on their surroundings. This occurs when they can see light through the flock at many angles, a state known as marginal opacity. The subsequent pattern of light and dark, formed as the birds attempt to achieve the necessary density, is what provides vital information to individual birds within the flock.

Agent based simulation fo a flock of starlings under predation from a hawk. Using the Hybrid Projection Model, developed by Daniel Pearce.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Warwick

The mystery behind the movements of flocking starlings could be explained by the areas of light and dark created as they fly, new research suggests.

Related Articles


The research, conducted by the University of Warwick and published in the journal PNAS, found that flocking starlings aim to maintain an optimum density at which they can gather data on their surroundings. This occurs when they can see light through the flock at many angles, a state known as marginal opacity. The subsequent pattern of light and dark, formed as the birds attempt to achieve the necessary density, is what provides vital information to individual birds within the flock.

The dynamic pattern of light and dark is created by birds within the flock altering the positions and angles at which they fly, causing a change in the amount of light let into the flock. The researchers observed that it was always possible to see areas of light coming through the flock, providing the initial insight that the changing patterns of light and dark had a role to play in the flock's movement.

This insight led to the development of a computer model in which individual birds with simulated intelligence were attracted to the areas in the flock that could provide the most information on the rest of the flock.* When each simulated bird was attracted to the areas in the virtual flock that can provide the most information the result was a cohesive swarm.

The Warwick team then applied the model's findings to flocks in the wild and established that there was a strong correlation between movements of the virtual and natural birds.

"An individual starling within a flock can see in front of them areas of light and dark created by other birds, forming a dynamic and changing silhouette," says lead researcher Daniel Pearce from the University's Department of Physics. "Our research ascertained that the silhouettes we external observers witness were a result of large flocks self-organising to achieve a marginally opaque state at which a bird can still see some of the light sky through gaps in the flock and gather information from other birds.

"When we observe a flock of starlings we are actually seeing a 2D projection of a dynamic, changing 3D environment. By developing this model we have been able to simulate this environment and see that when each bird is attracted to the areas in the flock that can provide the most information the result is a cohesive swarm that resembles a large flock of starlings in the wild," comments Mr Pearce.

It had previously been thought that co-ordination of a flock was achieved through birds interacting only with neighbouring members but, argues Professor Emeritus and paper co-author George Rowlands, the new research marks "a paradigm shift in our understanding of how birds organise within a flock as it shows that the local interactions between birds are alone insufficient to explain large-scale flock organisation."

* "We use a technique called agent based modelling of self-propelled particles, made famous by Vicsek et al (1995). Each bird is represented by a particle which each have an identical set of rules to follow (and likelihood of making a mistake). In this case the rules are a) follow your nearest neighbour and b) move towards the areas of the projection containing the most information. When lots of these particles are introduced, the result is a collective motion much like that of a real flock of birds," says Mr Pearce.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPZbedm_fBA


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Warwick. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. J. G. Pearce, A. M. Miller, G. Rowlands, M. S. Turner. Role of projection in the control of bird flocks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1402202111

Cite This Page:

University of Warwick. "Revealed: The mystery behind starling flocks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140718095647.htm>.
University of Warwick. (2014, July 18). Revealed: The mystery behind starling flocks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140718095647.htm
University of Warwick. "Revealed: The mystery behind starling flocks." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140718095647.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

Buzz60 (Dec. 17, 2014) Urbanspoon predicts whicg food trends will dominate the culinary scene in 2015. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins