Jonathan Jones: Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Often birds come together and fly in united flocks, performing extraordinary aerial acrobatics as one. Although not completely understood, it’s generally accepted that flocking birds benefit through cooperating with food hunting, that they exchange information and have greater protection from predators as a group.

Travelling as a group is also helpful in decreasing the collective wind resistance of the flock, and you can often see high up in the sky birds in a V-formation for this reason. Birds take it in turn to be in front, breaking up the wind for other birds to fly smoothly. But we still don’t understand how they act as a collective group. For instance, when turning and swooping why don’t they bump into each other and fall out of the sky? Some theories suggest that birds keep an equal distance between each other, that they act collectively, making lots of individual decisions while keeping an equal distance that determines the group’s direction; alternatively, there might be lead birds directing the flock to move in unison.

In Australia, we have a number of flocking birds, often travelling together to find water or food sources. In arid areas budgerigars are known to flock in great numbers, and clouds of green and yellow swarm overhead.


Each week Jonathan Jones shares stories of native Australian birds, touching on their importance, the issues they face and what we can learn from them. Jones' upcoming artwork for the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art requires thousands of native Australian bird feathers, which he needs your help to find.

Image: Budgerigars flock above a waterhole near Alice Springs, photo by Steven Pearce via ABC News