Flocking (behavior)

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Flocking behavior is the behavior exhibited when a group of birds, called a flock, are foraging or in flight. There are parallels with the shoaling behavior of fish, the swarming behavior of insects, and herd behavior of land animals.

Computer simulations and mathematical models which have been developed to emulate the flocking behaviors of birds can generally be applied also to the "flocking" behavior of other species. As a result, the term "flocking" is sometimes applied, in computer science, to species other than birds.

This article is about the modelling of flocking behavior. From the perceptive of the mathematical modeller, "flocking" is the collective motion of a large number of self-propelled entities and is a collective animal behavior exhibited by many living beings such as birds, fish, bacteria, and insects.[1] It is considered an emergent behavior arising from simple rules that are followed by individuals and does not involve any central coordination.

Flocking behavior was first simulated on a computer in 1986 by Craig Reynolds with his simulation program, Boids. This program simulates simple agents (boids) that are allowed to move according to a set of basic rules. The result is akin to a flock of birds, a school of fish, or a swarm of insects.

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Flocking rules

Basic models of flocking behavior are controlled by three simple rules:

With these three simple rules, the flock moves in an extremely realistic way, creating complex motion and interaction that would be extremely hard to create otherwise.

Measurement

Measurements of bird flocking have been made[2] using high-speed cameras, and a computer analysis has been made to test the simple rules of flocking mentioned above. It is found that they generally hold true in the case of bird flocking, but the long range attraction rule (cohesion) applies to the nearest 5-10 neighbors of the flocking bird and is independent of the distance of these neighbors from the bird. In addition, there is an anisotropy with regard to this cohesive tendency, with more cohesion being exhibited towards neighbors to the sides of the bird, rather than in front or behind. This is no doubt due to the field of vision of the flying bird being directed to the sides rather than directly forward or backward.