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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Murmurations

This was a fun email and video that was passed along to me about European Starlings. Just to note, Starlings are non-native invasive species that were brought here by a society who thought to introduce all of the birds that were mentioned by Shakespeare in his works.  The other "pest" bird we have this group to thank: House Sparrow.  Though I do actively remove any Starling nest that I find, I did think that this email and video were worth watching.  The biggest problem with Starlings is their tendency to outcompete and remove our native birds from their nesting habitats. This is a great example of how something that is considered a pest on our continent is being protected on another continent.

I have not a clue who wrote the original email so I can not pass along credit, but thank you for the interesting words and wonderful video, we can surmise it is someone who still speaks the Queen's English with the added "u's" and varied spellings. 


Here’s another mystery of nature:
No one knows why they do it. Yet each fall, thousands of starlings dance in the twilight above England and Scotland.

The birds gather in shape-shifting flocks called murmurations, having migrated in the millions from Russia and Scandinavia to escape winter’s frigid bite. Scientists aren’t sure how they do it, either.
The starlings' murmurations are manifestations of swarm intelligence, which in different contexts is practised by schools of fish, swarms of bees and colonies of ants. As far as I am aware, even complex algorithmic models haven’t yet explained the starlings’ aerobatics, which rely on the tiny birds' quicksilver reaction time of under 100 milliseconds to avoid aerial collisions—and predators—in the giant flock.

Despite their tour de force in the dusky sky, starlings have declined significantly in the UK in recent years, perhaps because of a decline in suitable nesting sites. The birds still roost in several of Britain’s rural pastures, however, settling down to sleep (and chatter) after their evening ballet.

Two young ladies were out for a late afternoon canoe ride and fortunately one of them remembered to bring her video camera. What they saw was a wonderful murmuration display, caught in the short video - URL is below. Watch the variation of colour and intensity of the patterns that the birds make in proximity to one other. And take a look at the girl in the bow of the canoe watching the aerial display.

Enjoy.

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