Instead of turning out the light tonight and getting to bed at a decent hour as I had promised myself I’d do earlier in the day, I found myself staying up late as usual to read my Facebook news feed. But I’m glad I did because I came across a video that is so breathtaking that I was compelled to write an article about it. What makes this video so spectacular is that it was not planned; it was a chance encounter that two people were blessed to witness, a sight that they will probably never see again. Thankfully, a camera was on hand to record the moment. Watch it in full screen and see what I mean.
The phenomenon is known as a murmuration of starlings. Why ‘murmuration’? I have no idea. Perhaps it’s the murmur-like sound the birds make as they move through the sky. We’ve all seen small flocks of birds at one time or another fly like this, but few have witnessed what Sophie Windsor Clive and her friend, Liberty Smith, experienced while canoeing on the River Shannon in Ireland.
I had a difficult time finding information online that describes this phenomenon becasue most of the search results were about the video. So I had to be very precise with respect to the terms I used and finally located some information that explains how these birds are able to do what they do. I’ll do my best to convey my meager understanding of this awe-inspiring phenomenon.
It’s evident from the video that the birds are flying in fairly tight formation. So, when one bird makes a tiny change in speed and/or directoin, the birds closest to it copy that movement. This change in movement then ripples through the entire flock, and you get this mesermizing, undulating flow of birds careening through the sky. The extremely tiny movements of each bird create a larger pattern that reminds me of waves rolling across the surface of the sea. Incredibly, these birds can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour. Starlings typically engage in this behavior at dusk, just before settling down for the night.
There’s still a lot that scientists don’t understand about why birds and other animals (e.g., schools of fish) engage in this highly synchronized behavior, but not knowing why they do it doesn’t detract one bit from its beauty.
By the way, in addition to the video’s Creative Common’s license, which allows it to be freely shared (with attribution), its haunting score, Murmuration, by Emmett Glynn and Band is availabe as a free download.
Okay, lights out.