THEY don’t have a leader and yet they know exactly what to do.

New research has shown how flocks of birds make decisions simultaneously as a unit at a moment’s notice.

A flock of starlings taking flight over Poole. Footage by Rich Meston

The study found that birds will change course and make decisions to land unanimously, with the group need overriding the intention of the individual.

Researchers in Hungary said decisions are made according to the bird’s position within the flock.

The scientists, whose findings have been published in the New Journal of Physics, have created a scientific model, called the self-propelled particle (SPP) system to analyse the movement of flocks.

Kunal Bhattacharya, of the department of biological physics at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said: “In the absence of a decision-making leader, the collective shift to land is heavily influenced by the perturbations that the individual birds are subject to, such as the birds' flying position within the flock.

He added: “Our main motivation was to better understand something which is puzzling and out there in nature, especially in cases involving the stopping or starting of a collective behavioural pattern in a group of people or animals.”

Dr Bhattacharya added that the SPP model could be used to explain and anticipate other natural mass movements.

He said: “Possible applications include collectively flying unmanned aerial vehicles, initiating a desired motion pattern in crowds or groups of animals and even finance, where the results could be used to interpret collective effects on selling or buying shares on the stock market.”

So expect management training books based on the flight habits of birds to hit the shelves before too long…