Thursday, July 5, 2012

Nature's Mysteries: Starlings

Murmuration - The Dance of the Starlings

Here’s another mystery of nature:

No one knows why they do it, yet each fall, thousands of starlings dance in the twilight above England and Scotland . The birds gather in shape-shifting flocks called murmurations, having migrated in the millions from Russia and Scandinavia to escape winter’s frigid bite .

Scientists aren’t sure how they do it either. The starlings' murmurations are manifestations of swarm intelligence, which in different contexts is practiced by schools of fish , swarms of bees, and colonies of ants.  As far as I am aware, even complex algorithmic models haven’t yet explained the starlings’ aerobatics, which rely on the tiny birds' quicksilver reaction time of under 100 milliseconds, to avoid aerial collisions — and predators — in the giant flock.

Despite their tour de force in the dusky sky, starlings have declined significantly in the UK in recent years, perhaps because of a decline in suitable nesting sites. The birds still roost in several of Britain’s rural pastures; however, settling down to sleep, (and chatter), after their evening ballet.

Two young ladies were out for a late afternoon canoe ride and fortunately one of them remembered to bring her video camera.  What they saw was a wonderful murmuration display, caught in the short video - URL is below.  Watch the variation of color and intensity of the patterns that the birds make in proximity to one other, and take a look at the girl in the stern of the canoe watching the aerial display. 


Til next Time, 

A chance encounter and shared moment with one of natures greatest and most fleeting phenomena.


Looking for some fun photography opportunity to capture tiny birds, check this out: