A stunning flock of starlings (video)

Two women, out on a boat, have a chance encounter with a flock of starlings, also called a murmuration of starlings.

murmuration-of-starlings

The video starts out just okay. You think, eh, this is nice, but nothing special. Then the birds transform into one living breathing being, and you’re in awe. Trust me on this.

flock-of-starlings

I did a little more digging.  Apparently, starlings do this when there’s a predator nearby, and they’re engaging in a behavior to avoid the predator.  A bit more from Wired:

Starling flocks, it turns out, are best described with equations of “critical transitions” — systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition.

At the individual level, the rules guiding this are relatively simple. When a neighbor moves, so do you. Depending on the flock’s size and speed and its members’ flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. What’s complicated, or at least unknown, is how criticality is created and maintained.

It’s easy for a starling to turn when its neighbor turns — but what physiological mechanisms allow it to happen almost simultaneously in two birds separated by hundreds of feet and hundreds of other birds? That remains to be discovered, and the implications extend beyond birds. Starlings may simply be the most visible and beautiful example of a biological criticality that also seems to operate in proteins and neurons, hinting at universal principles yet to be understood.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • SkippyFlipjack

    You can see this phenomena on a predictable basis on an island in the Connecticut River near the Long Island sound, where swallows from all over gather for a month or so each September. To avoid predators they gather in a huge undulating, swelling flock until all at once they all disappear into the marsh in a matter of a couple of seconds, some quarter of a million birds just vanishing. It’s truly amazing. Unfortunately none of the videos I’ve found on youtube really do it justice.

  • FauxReal

    These birds may be considered pests but their aerial ballet is so beautiful. YouTube has many murmuration (love that word) videos and the one below is one of my favorites.

  • BillFromDover

    All this for one measly hawk (or whatever)?

    Whatever happened to the law of conversation of energy?

  • bcarter3

    If you like this, check out the video for Choir of Young Believers’ “Hollow Talk” ( http://youtu.be/Vy7yuj-UrNI ) which accompanies another murmuration of starlings with a haunting, gorgeous song.

    “Hollow Talk” is being used as the theme music for the Danish/Swedish TV series “The Bridge”, currently running on BBC Four. .

  • HeartlandLiberal

    I would recommend a read of Rupert Sheldrake’s book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home. He proposes the term “morphic resonance” to describe what can only be perceived as some sort of telepathic bond over distance between dogs and their owners. He reports on trial after trial he has videotaped in blind tests, where he has caught on film dogs responding at home with eagerness, anticipation, going to the door, and waiting, all activities which start when their owner makes the decision to stop what they are doing, be it miles away at work, or whatever, and head for home. It is a fascinating book, and one more death blow to the dying mechanistic behaviorism scientists still imposed on all interpretations of animal psychology and behavior until only the last couple of decades.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Starlings glean the vineyards after the harvest in these parts—-absolutely amazing.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    It’s like something out of the Lord of the Rings.

  • cole3244

    most humans think other species aren’t as sophisticated as we are the truth might be just the contrary.

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