Following The Leader

Choosing the right direction depends on who you are with. If you have a guide, you follow, no question – you are probably paying for the service so why would you take off on your own. If travelling with your partner, things may be different and arguments may be vivid. But these are special situations, What happens when in an informal group?

Many social species wander around following somebody, but does that someone know where they are going? Among the dreamy spires of Oxford, Flack et al decided to see if homing pigeons were too bird-brained to take good advice and follow a more experienced bird.

They decided that the birds should work in pairs and that the experience of the two in each pair should be different. After loading them up with GPS tracking equipment, they tossed the pairs out at locations far from home.

What they found was that the bird who had more navigational time under its feathers chose the route. This was most marked when the difference in navigational time served was the greatest.

Clearly the best decisions were made, but it still isn’t clear how the issues were decided as they climbed into the sky and made a quick circuit before flapping off home for tea. But decided they were, and no one had to stop and ask directions, or fly around while the other consulted a map.

It is interesting that here experience and not social dominance decided the issue. Maybe we have a lot to learn from homing pigeons.

  1. A. Flack,B. Pettit, R. freeman, T. Guilford and D. Biro, J. Animal Behaviour,

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