A Mesmerizing Murmuration Of Starlings
If there is one video, you do not want to miss, this is it. On a cold autumn day, Sophie Clive and her friend Liberty Smith, set out on a canoe trip down Ireland's Shannon River. They took their camera along, just in case. Little did they know they were in for a treat!
A flock of starlings, called a “murmuration,” put on a spectacular display of coordinated flight, swooping and banking, rising and falling – all like a synchronized dance. Scientists are still unsure of just how they manage to do it!
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With autumn comes this visual treat. All over Europe starlings flock and just before they dip down to roost, their flock “dances.” When you watch their antics, you realize that there must be some method – else how do they achieve such precision and keep together? Scientists have long offered all kinds of theories – but it is not something that is easy to prove!
So how do these starlings do it? In some places, almost 10,000 starlings perform these murmurations. With very specific studies aimed at understanding the “how,” it is only lately that scientists have begun to get answers. Scientists at the University of Rome used interlinked cameras to study the 3-dimensional flocking patterns. They found out that the number of birds in a flock influences the patterns – not the individuals. The individual birds keep changing their positions within the flock so as to avoid being on the outside. Why? Well, the outside of the pattern is most vulnerable to attacks from birds of prey like hawks and falcons!
The birds also fly side by side, probably because that is how their eyes are set – they can see on either side of them better than they can see in front. These flocks could have thousands of birds in them, but with the center “thicker” or “denser” than the edges!
Confusing the predator?
But why do the birds flock like this at dusk? They probably behave like “one organism” to protect themselves from marauding birds of prey. It has been seen that peregrine falcons hunt flocks more than lone starlings. And the starlings mob and chase the raptors away using the murmurations. So maybe these dances are an anti-attack strategy? We may never know why or how these starlings actually perform like this.
But what we do know is that starling numbers are falling drastically. Open pastures where the starlings feed are disappearing and the use of pesticides have harmed the hungry starlings. Environmentalists are stepping in to protect these birds and we only hope that we see more of these spectacular murmurations as we find a way to save the starlings.