Great Balls of Birds

Posted by admin on November 15, 2013  |   No Comments »
European Starling  Credit: Gary Mueller

European Starling
Credit: Gary Mueller

One of my friends phones every so often, as she commutes home from Salem, Oregon to Portland, to describe the enormous flocks of birds that change shapes in the sky. “They’re starlings,” I tell her. The Willamette Valley is not the only place the mesmerizing murmurations of starlings occur. In fact, starlings are not native to the Americas; they are native to England. Today, another friend sent a link to a 4 minute video by a British wildlife photographer who describes his wonder that the birds’ communication allows them to create these evolving formations.

Some time ago, a videoof a young woman’s experience watching the starling flocks (flock appears at 0:24 sec. in this 2-minute film) in a very different environment was featured as was part of a blogpost from my favorite Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The accompanying blog post explains the phenomenon and points readers several research articles. As you computational biologists might suspect, the starlings relate to their “nearest seven neighbors.”

Whether you love the birds, the mathematics, or the surprise, the murmuration is a lovely phenomenon.

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