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Pigeons in a flock follow their most influential friends © Getty Images

Pigeons influencers get the most followers

Published: 20th November, 2019 at 11:48
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Individuals closer to the centre are more influential to others, scientists say.

Most people associate influencers with social media, but it seems there is a different form among birds guiding the flock.


Researchers have developed a new way to observe groups of pigeons in a bid to understand how the flying creatures co-ordinate themselves in the skies and decide on which direction to go.

Analysing 3 flocks of 10 pigeons each, scientists from Southeast University and China University of Mining and Technology identified several trends in their flock motion using GPS data.

They said every pigeon has neighbours it influences as well as ones it is influenced by, depending on its location within a flock. But no-one remains the influencer forever – instead they are likely to change throughout the flight.

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“Interestingly, the individuals closer to the mass centre and the average velocity direction are more influential to others, which means location and flight direction are two factors that matter in their interactions,” explained assistant professor Duxin Chen, from Southeast University in China, who wrote the paper for the Chaos journal.

“Understanding the underlying co-ordination mechanism of these appealing phenomena helps us gain more cognition of the world where we live.”

Although the team were not looking at social patterns among the birds, they did notice intense flight competition, which supports previous studies.


The scientists behind the project believe their method could be used to analyse other co-ordinated behaviours and plan to look at immune cells next.

Reader Q&A: Why are pigeons such a successful city bird?

Asked by: James Mckenzie, Leighton Buzzard

Pigeons arose from the domestication of rock doves, as early as 10,000 years ago. Having originated from domestic stock, it’s no surprise that the UK’s estimated 18 million feral pigeons are inherently tolerant of humans. Happily living alongside us, these unfussy eaters will flock to areas where people feed them.

The tall concrete buildings within our cities are perfect pigeon territory because they replicate the cliff faces which are still home to wild rock doves in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.


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