What a thrill to watch an amazing murmuration of Starlings and Grackles right here in our local preserve the other evening!
As I snapped photo after photo, my husband remembered to also take some video, a clip of which can be seen here:This magical event has been occurring every evening at sunset for a week or two, just over the marsh where the starlings and grackles roost every night.What is a murmuration, anyway?? It starts out with just a few birds gathering together in the skies, gradually increasing in number till there are thousands of birds. As more and more birds join the group, they mesmerize onlookers by swirling overhead in dizzying, synchronized flight formations!Literally, the word means ‘a flock of Starlings‘, who, as Jonathan Rosen writes, ” . . . put on breathtaking aerial displays . . . , banking in nervous unison, responding like a school of fish to each tremor inside the group.” (NY Times Magazine, April 22, 2007) Noah Stryker describes many of the research studies on this phenomenon in a chapter titled Spontaneous Order, the Curious Magnetism of Starling Flocks, in his book The Thing with Feathers. He tells us that starlings “collectively patrol the airspace above their sleeping quarters” (p. 30) in the evening at certain times of year. But for precisely what reasons, and how, remain mysterious questions.Stryker asks, “How can a hundred thousand birds zip around at 30 miles per hour, each mere inches from the next, and maintain a cohesive flock, while constantly shifting direction?” As he says, ” . . . it boggles the mind.” (p. 31)
More about the most recent research on murmuration can be found in this article at All About Birds. The birds we saw astonished us with their acrobatics, swooping close in above us, then retreating far off in the distance, and suddenly reappearing again in new and ever-changing patterns.
For a glorious 5-minute treat on murmuration, be sure to watch this stunning video on YouTube by Dylan Winter. More fascinating information can also be found here at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK.