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A Smoke-Swirl of Birds

A video of thousands of birds flying as a single coordinated, amorphous group stirs up questions about how they do it.

By | November 10, 2011

A large flock of starlings over fields near Gretna, LouisianaWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, WALTER BAXTER

When two young girls set out for a canoe ride on the River Shannon in Ireland in late October, they couldn’t have imagined what they would see—and catch on camera: thousands of starlings swooping and turning over the water, akin to a massive ball of bait fish being chased by a hungry seal. The group, known as a murmuration, demonstrates impeccable coordination, as it must to avoid the bumping and crashing of the individual birds.

In 2008, researchers took a closer look at starling murmurations in an attempt to determine exactly how they harmonize their movements. Measuring the positions of individuals in flocks of up to 2,700 birds, the researchers found that the birds kept their distance from each other—a minimum distance of approximately their wing span, to be exact—and that the flocks tended to be more tightly packed at the edges than in the middle.

Additional research has revealed that starling flocks move in patterns reminiscent of cutting-edge physics equations, Wired Science reported. Specifically, their movements can be illustrated with equations of “critical transitions,” which describe systems that can change in an instant, like a liquid evaporating into a gas. When the flock turns, it turns in unison, but for each individual bird, it’s simply a matter of following its neighbor. Still, there are many unanswered questions about how the flock moves, and the answers may have implications beyond flocking birds, according to Wired, including the behavior of proteins and neurons.

But for now, let’s forget about the science, just for a minute, and enjoy the awe-inspiring dance of the starlings that the two girls met that day on the River Shannon.

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

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Comments

Avatar of: Elzi Volk

Elzi Volk

Posts: 4

November 11, 2011

Anchovies swim in similar patterns in the ocean. Seeing both species perform their 'dance' is awe inspiring.

Avatar of: charles000

charles000

Posts: 1

November 11, 2011

A fantastic example of distributed swarm intelligence.  This type of phenomena has been modeled on computers for many years, yet is still something of a mystery as to exactly how this phenomena works in various species of birds, and fish in nature. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

November 11, 2011

Anchovies swim in similar patterns in the ocean. Seeing both species perform their 'dance' is awe inspiring.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

November 11, 2011

A fantastic example of distributed swarm intelligence.  This type of phenomena has been modeled on computers for many years, yet is still something of a mystery as to exactly how this phenomena works in various species of birds, and fish in nature. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

November 11, 2011

Anchovies swim in similar patterns in the ocean. Seeing both species perform their 'dance' is awe inspiring.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

November 11, 2011

A fantastic example of distributed swarm intelligence.  This type of phenomena has been modeled on computers for many years, yet is still something of a mystery as to exactly how this phenomena works in various species of birds, and fish in nature. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

November 23, 2011

What exactly are they achieving? Are they dancing?

Aurora ornithopterous?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

November 23, 2011

What exactly are they achieving? Are they dancing?

Aurora ornithopterous?

Avatar of: Stuart Saunders

Stuart Saunders

Posts: 8

November 23, 2011

What exactly are they achieving? Are they dancing?

Aurora ornithopterous?

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