Unlocking the Mystery of Flocks

Groups of birds are providing insight into human behavior.

Expanding and contracting, twisting and turning as they undulate across the sky, bird flocks are mesmerizing to watch. Scientists are unlocking the mystery of how these masses move in unison, and using their discoveries to better understand human behavior. Larger flocks may offer individual birds greater protection from predators, for instance, and bigger groups of great tits and blue tits are better than smaller flocks at solving such problems as how to get food out of seed-dispensing devices. Studying flocking might shed light on how to manipulate crowds into moving in a certain direction, or even on the collective influence of buying and selling stock market shares—individuals may trade in a similar direction to speculators instead of following the market, for example.

This story originally ran as“Flocking Behavior” in the March-April 2013 issue of Audubon magazine.