Digital filters can be broadly classified into two groups: recursive (infinite impulse response (IIR)) and non-recursive (finite impulse response (FIR)). An IIR filter can provide a much better performance than the FIR filter having the same number of coefficients. However, IIR filters might have a multi-modal error surface. Therefore, a reliable design method proposed for IIR filters must be based on a global search procedure. Artificial bee colony (ABC) algorithm has been recently introduced for global optimization. The ABC algorithm simulating the intelligent foraging behaviour of honey bee swarm is a simple, robust, and very flexible algorithm. In this work, a new method based on ABC algorithm for designing digital IIR filters is described and its performance is compared with that of a conventional optimization algorithm (LSQ-nonlin) and particle swarm optimization (PSO) algorithm. (c) 2009 The Franklin Institute. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.