If you look up when you’re walking or driving, you’re bound to see birds of all types sitting together on telephone and electric wires as they watch the world go by.

Sometimes they’re in large groups huddled together; other times they’re far apart.

So what the heck is going on here?

Rutgers University-Camden biology professor Bill Saidel led a team of researchers on a multi-year project to try and get some answers.

“What’s going on probably is that birds are acting socially in a group, just like any other group. You have personal space but then you’re attracted to your neighbors,” he said.

“Spacing is a function of some attraction and repulsion at the same time, some even balance point.”

He suggested they may be coming together in search of food or to find a mate — or it just may give them a better chance to survive a possible attack by a predator.

He said the study, which involved taking hundreds of photos of starlings and pigeons sitting on telephone wires over a two-year period, found that “birds like to associate with each other up to a point and then when one starts intruding into personal space, they want to separate.”

When pressed on the burning question of why birds will flock together on a wire, the professor said he thinks "they’re basically waiting for an event to happen and the event might be something as simple as sunset.”

He noted some birds, like humming birds, don’t associate with each other much at all. Pigeons tend to sit together in pairs on wires. But other birds, like starlings, will frequently come together in large groups.

“One of the reasons for massing together is that it provides some self-protection. But as to why do they sit on telephone wires, I think because the wires are there.”

The professor stressed no one really knows if birds enjoy coming together in a big crowd or not. He added many birds are quite smart because “they solve problems.”

Saidel said in studying birds on wires researchers observed there was no single leader to a tell birds where to sit and how long they should stay: They figured things out as a group.

“There’s no boss. That’s an example, a very simple example, of self-organization.”

The birds on wire study was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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