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Flocking dynamics in birds : the role of personality and experience


School of Biological Sciences

About the Project

Many birds travel in flocks comprising many individuals. During flights, decisions have to be made about who leads and follows, and who is positioned where in the flock. This project aims to investigate whether personality traits of morphological/physiological parameters determine leadership and flock positioning, using homing pigeons as models.

Body mass is an important component of the energetic costs involved in bird flight. Fat stores are an essential source of fuel for the body during long flights, but excessive body mass will increase flight costs dramatically. Body mass is also known to play a role in certain animal societies in determining social structure and dominance hierarchies. Birds will have a trade-off, therefore, between optimal body mass for flight, and requirements for body fuel in the form of fat, and social dynamics.

This project aims to investigate flock social structure and group dynamics in homing pigeons. Birds will be flown from release sites equipped with data loggers, and factors such as speed, flap frequency and wing-beat amplitude of all birds within the flock will be investigated. Individuals will then have their body mass artificially manipulated, to measure the outcomes this has on the birds general flight behaviour. These manipulations will be achieved through the addition of small weights to the back of the birds. Furthermore, this project will investigate dominance hierarchies in pigeon flocks, and leader follower dynamics during group navigational flights, again with respect to manipulations of body mass.

References

Portugal, S.J., Ricketts, R., Chappell, J., White, C.R., Shepard, E.L. and Biro, D. (2017) Boldness traits, not dominance, predicts exploratory flight range and homing behaviour in homing pigeons. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 372: 20160234.
Taylor, L. A., Portugal, S. J. and Biro, D. (2017) Homing pigeons modulate wingbeat characteristics as a function of route familiarity. Journal of Experimental Biology. 220: 2908-2915.
Portugal, S.J., Sivess, L., Butler, P.J., Martin, G.R. and White, C.R. (2017) Perch height predicts dominance rank in birds. Ibis. 159: 456-462.

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