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Benj Pettit

I'm a D.Phil. student in the Animal Behaviour Research Group at Oxford University, supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Benj with pigeon


I am interested in collective animal behaviour. In particular, I want to know how individuals balance social cohesion and personal information, and what emergent effects these strategies have on information pooling within the group. My project combines experimental work on homing pigeons with mathematical modelling to find out how the flock resolves informational conflicts and makes a group decision about where to fly. I am also investigating whether information about familar routes can be socially transmitted. For more on this research topic, see our collective behaviour page.

To bring in ideas from maths and physics, I collaborate with David Sumpter's group at Uppsala University in Sweden and with Tamas Vicsek's group at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest.



I completed my bachelor's degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge in 2008. In my final year, I specialised in zoology and undertook a research project on collective behaviour of cockroaches, based at the Zoological Society of London and supervised by Seirian Sumner and Andy King.



Pettit, Benjamin, Andrea Perna, Dora Biro, and David J. T. Sumpter. "Interaction rules underlying group decisions in homing pigeons." Journal of The Royal Society Interface 10 (2013).

Nagy, M., G. Vasarhelyi, B. Pettit, I. Roberts-Mariani, T. Vicsek, and D. Biro. "Context-dependent hierarchies in pigeons." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2013).

Pettit, B., A. Flack, R. Freeman, T. Guilford, and D. Biro. "Not just passengers: pigeons, Columba livia, can learn homing routes while flying with a more experienced conspecific." Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 280, no. 1750 (2013): 1471-2954.

Flack, A., B. Pettit, R. Freeman, T. Guilford, and D. Biro. "What are leaders made of? The role of individual experience in determining leader–follower relations in homing pigeons." Animal Behaviour 83 (2012): 703-709.

Google Scholar page


Outreach & Media

Popular science article in a magazine for A-level students (Feb 2013): "Pigeon sat nav." Biological Sciences Reiview 25 (3) pp.12-15.

Contributed to the BBC documentary Super Smart Animals (2012), which aired on BBC One, Animal Planet, Eden. Also helped film a sequence on pigeons for BBC The One Show (2010).

Talk on the theme "Inspired by crowds" at a discussion event organized by FreeState creative agency in July 2013. The audience included architects, artists, engineers, and writers.


Contact Details

Benjamin Pettit
Department of Zoology (E23)
South Parks Road

email: benjamin.pettit[at]