A Murmuration of Starlings
I have two videos I can hardly wait for you to watch. Wildlife cameraman and travel journalist Dylan Winter made the first one as he was sailing around the U.K. in an 18-foot boat; and the video shows a murmuration of starlings. In case you’ve never heard of a murmuration, as I had not, it’s the starlings’ personal noun for “flock.” Just as crows come together in murders and owls in parliaments, starlings gather in murmurations usually right before dusk and search for their evening roost.
The flock of starlings in this video is thrilling because there are thousands of them — darting, bobbing, swooping, rising, and zigzagging like a perfectly choreographed dance troupe. One at a time, birds take turns leading, and the others follow. The miracle – and mystery – is that the starlings never bump into each other even though they change direction in less than 100 milliseconds and they’re flying at 20 miles an hour.
Biologists say that the starlings fly in a murmuration to protect themselves from predators, whose heads would spin if they got mixed up in all those birds. Mathematicians say that equations describing the flock patterns are similar to those describing crystal formation and avalanches, meaning they all can change in a finger snap, as starling mumurations do when gliding and swooping away from an eagle.
I say the birds are a glory of our cosmos. They look like they’re dancing with joy at being alive. The murmuration video inspires chill bumps. And so might the next one I want you to see, showing Damar, a pet starling, “murmuring” and making clear how flocks of his brothers got their name. As you listen to Damar, you’ll feel like you’re eavesdropping on people mumbling in a foreign language in a distant room. The murmurs are amazing. Here they are. Enjoy!
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