Starling murmuration during golden hour Starling murmuration during golden hour A starling murmuration covers Israel's skies during the golden hour in the northern Negev. (All photos: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Starlings create stunning works of art

These birds form murmurations that resemble aerial sculptures.

Like schools of fish in the ocean, starlings flock to the evening skies in strange formations, moving fluidly as if they're not individual birds, but a single organism. Watching them move around the sky is mesmerizing enough, but add the landscape of the Israeli countryside to the equation, and you've got a canvas-worthy work of art.

Starling murmuration forms shape in the sky

While we'd like to think these gregarious birds take flight on a whim, it's usually to catch food or to escape a nearby predator. They aren't just practicing a wildlife ballet – they're enacting a defense mechanism present in not just other bird species but all throughout nature. Step one: get close together. Step two: confuse the enemy. But we're not complaining – in the process, we get to observe a spectacular show.

Like flocks of pelicans, blackbirds and geese, starling murmurations move in a seemingly telepathic unison, with no clear "leader" bird giving instructions to follow. The birds are so in tune and move so quickly that changes taking place in the flock are almost imperceptible. Andrea Alfano of Cornell University likens starling murmurations to very accurate games of telephone: Each starling is hyper-aware of the seven birds closest to it and picks up on their signals almost immediately. 

Starling murmuration in Israel

"It's as if seeing that synchrony, that seemingly perfect connection between each starling, also reminds us to value our connection to the world around us," Alfano writes on All About Birds, "for connection can be truly beautiful."

Starlings fly across the landscape of the northern Negev

Several species of starlings can be found throughout the world, from the Arctic Circle to the Negev desert and beyond. Though common starling numbers have fallen in Israel over the past few decades for unknown reasons, they are making a clear recovery and can be spotted by the hundreds of thousands in the Israeli countryside at dusk during the colder winter months. Scroll through the collection below for images of some of the most intriguing shapes they form. What do you see?

A starling formation looks like a speech bubble in the sky

Starling murmuration forms pointy shape in the sky in Israel

Interesting starling murmuration in Israel looks like a skull

A starling murmuration at dusk

Starlings fly in almost mirrior imageStarlings fly in an almost mirror image in this murmuration that photographer Manahem Kahana captured in February 2014.

Heart-shaped starling murmuration Also (quite fittingly!) captured in February 2014, starlings amazingly formed a heart in the evening sky over Israel's Negev desert.


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Related Topics: Animals

Starlings create stunning works of art
These birds form murmurations that resemble aerial sculptures.