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Flock of Birds Explained!

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ATS Formation - Flock of BirdsIn American Tribal Style Bellydance, we use the term “flock of birds” to describe the phenomenon that we follow one another without a set plan or timing. We are so closely cued in to one another’s movements that whoever the group can see best can lead the group, changing movement, speed, direction, etc on a moment’s notice.

Well, this article discusses the phenomenon after which this technique is named, and if one replaced “bird” with ‘dancer”, then darned if it doesn’t sound like they are talking about dance!

“There is no leader, no overall control; instead the flock’s movements are determined by the moment-by-moment decisions of individual birds, following simple rules in response to interactions with their neighbors in the flock. “


“In the special case of formation flying by large birds such as geese and pelicans, there is an energetic benefit, since following birds can take advantage of vortexes in the air produced by the ones ahead of them. (Although such formations clearly have leaders, these are temporary ones. Because a lead bird does not gain any energetic advantage from its position, it will drop back after a time while another takes the lead. Flock members probably do not do this on any regular rotation, although it’s possible that larger and stronger birds are in the lead a greater percentage of the time.)”


“Observation shows that there are no leaders (at least not for more than a few seconds at a time), since different birds will be at the front of the flock every time it changes direction. Research by Wayne Potts, published in the journal Nature in 1984, helped explain how flock movements are initiated and coordinated. Potts, through a frame-by-frame analysis of high-speed film of sandpiper flocks, found that any individual can initiate a flock movement, which then propagates through the flock in a wave radiating out from the initiation site. These “maneuver waves” could move in any direction through the flock… “

And don’t miss the bit about the “chorus line hypothesis”! A short, fun read to learn something new today!

Read the full article HERE.

(For great science, read more about birds flying in V formations here!)

Follow Shay:

Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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