How do starlings form living sculptures in the sky?
We explain the secrets behind these birds' amazing flying patterns.
It doesn't seem possible that a group of birds could organize themselves so well that they create majestic shapes in the sky. How do they all think as one? But it's well-documented that starlings manage it somehow, in what biologists call "starling murmurations." Like all of the photos shown here, they politely performed for us a few days ago near the southern Israeli city of Rahat.
Starling formations are often an act of defense; they may form when a falcon is nearby, as the little birds try to fly away from the predator.
But how do they manage it? It was a mystery for a while, until Andrea Cavagna and colleagues at the National Council of Research and the University of Rome used advanced computational modeling and video analysis to figure it out.
The researchers found that starling flocks model a complex phenomenon, seldom observed in physical and biological systems, called "scale-free correlation."
The birds don't have a leader. Instead, the whole group determines its movement. As the researchers put it, “the group respond[s] as one” and “cannot be divided into independent subparts.”
When one bird changes its speed or direction, the rest respond, giving the flock the ability to react to whatever is going on in the area, sort of like a big game of telephone. Effective, and awesome to look at.
Want to see more amazing photos? Check out FTGV's Featured Photo collection.
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE:
Related Topics: Animals