Thursday, February 5, 2015

Murmurations--Starling Legions

In the fall and through the winter, we see large flocks of starlings gather, fly, and then land together in trees or fields. 

Walter Baxter/Creative Commons 2.0

I'd never seen the phenomenon before I moved to North Carolina. And when I can, I stop and watch for as long as they're visible. 

Recently a medium sized group rose up out of a group of trees, headed off one direction, split, rejoined, then changed direction to circle around to the starting point. They did this a couple of times. I thought the birds were just aimless.

It reminded me of many Americans' lives--fast and busy, but without any apparent goal. 

I've since learned birds do have a purpose. They swarm and swirl to avoid a predator, to keep warm for the night, or find food.

More recently I stood at our bedroom window and looked out over the neighbor's trees. Flying over them came a huge flock of starlings, properly known as a murmuration heading west. The birds were a wide band that kept coming and coming.  I ran downstairs and out the front door to see where they were headed. They disappeared behind the tree tops of a closer grove, beyond my line of vision. The oncoming gaggle consolidated and formed a river of black bodies rising up on their wings' down stroke, and dropping slightly on the up stroke. Their chatter was like rocks rolling in with ocean waves and drug back out again, but higher pitched. 

 For three or four minutes the avian cloud flew past until they were gone. 
There must have been legions of them. 

I can't imagine there was any field nearby with enough gleanings for them all.  
I can't believe one hawk spooked the birds. Scientists have discovered that the birds are influenced by the seven others closest to them. They don't have to experience the threat directly, they just follow the crowd. 

Humans behave similarly sometimes. I remember seeing many people wear surgical masks after 9/11. Our small town is too far off the map to be hit by a bomb or targeted by poison except as an accident. We weren't dealing with ash, so there was no need. 

 We see the same mindless frenzy in the line-up to buy the next tech toy, wait for stores to open early on Black Friday, or to buy stock based on popularity rather than sound business principles. 

Many Germans followed Hitler with the same unthinking energy. 

Get enough of us headed off in one direction, and it may be impossible to turn the tide. 

The instinct may be natural, but it's not wise. 

At least in birds, it's beautiful

1 comment:

  1. I too have watched the birds perform their beautiful dance.


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