Sensational Starling Murmuration: Far Out Flocking Phenomenon [37 PICS, 13 VIDS]

November 25th, 2012 Permalink

In the winter, over Europe, massive starling flocks, from thousands to millions of birds, swarm, swoop, shift, swirl and twirl, moving as one while performing amazing aerial acrobatics. Although a previous Love These Pics post was full of bird flocks and flying swarms that seemed to be attacking like Hitchcock’s The Birds, some were, in reality, a starling murmuration. This extraordinarily beautiful ballet at dusk is a pre-roosting phenomenon known as starling murmuration. Although this is science, the phenomenon is more math and physics than biology. The ‘Black Sun’ is hypnotic to watch as the starlings fill the evening sky, twisting and turning in a incredible and unpredictable waltz. [37 Photos, 13 Videos]

Swarms and starling murmuration

Starling swarms, an extraordinarily beautiful ballet at dusk that is a pre-roosting phenomenon of nature known as ‘starling murmuration.’ Photo #1 by Fayez Nureldine / AFP

Giant thumb print -- Starling roost at Minsmere, Suffolk

Giant thumbprint on the twilight sky, Starling roost at Minsmere, Suffolk. If you’ve heard of a school of fish or a murder of crows, then a murmuration is a collective noun for a grouping of starlings. The flowing river of nature during murmuration is one seriously spectacular sight. Photo #2 by Donald Macauley

A murmuration of starlings at Gretna

A murmuration of starlings at Gretna. When the starlings return from feeding during the day, each flock joins the other as if the movements are made by one collective mind. Photo #3 by Adam (ad551)

Flock -- 'Black Sun' by the lake in Silkeborg

Flock — ‘Black Sun’ by the lake in Silkeborg, another popular term to describe sensational starling murmuration. Photo #4 by Christoffer A Rasmussen

Black ink, starlings flocking at sunset over EUR

“Black ink, starlings flocking at sunset over Europe.” For the birds to perform this extraordinarily beautiful pre-roosting phenomenon, science and math suggest that each starling needs only to be aware of the six or seven starlings flying closest to it. Photo #5 by coincidentalimages

Amazing starlings murmuration: This astonishing sequence was filmed by wild life cameraman and travel journalist Dylan Winter who is currently sailing around the UK in an 18 foot boat. Video #1 by Dylan Winter via raisingmaggie

Starlings forming fascinating formations over Tøndermarsken, south-west Jutland, Denmark

Starlings forming fascinating formations over Tøndermarsken, south-west Jutland, Denmark. Did you ever watch Lost? If so, then do you remember how the ‘Smoke Monster’ moved? The evil black smoke moved in much the same pattern as a starling murmuration! Photo #6 by Tommy Hansen

A large flock of European Starlings (also known as Common Starlings) at dusk over Rome, Italy

A large flock of European Starlings (also known as Common Starlings) at dusk over Rome, Italy. Millions of these birds flowing together in a murmuration draw predators such as hungry hawks. Photo #7 by Paolo

Flock -- 'Black Sun' by the lake in Silkeborg

Flock — ‘Black Sun’ by the lake in Silkeborg. Twisting like a liquid tornado in mind-blowing aerial acrobatics also helps warm the birds before they settle in for a cold winter night. Photo #8 by Christoffer A Rasmussen

Sunset starling murmuration at Brighton West Pier

Sunset starling murmuration at Brighton West Pier. Photo #9 by Matt Lancashire

Starling Murmuration -- roosting Starlings on the Somerset levels

Starling Murmuration — series of shots of roosting Starlings on the Somerset levels. This wonderful nature show is majestic and almost magical. Photo #10 by Tony Armstrong

Beautiful! MURMURATION OF STARLINGS : Pre roosting phenomenon. Incredible footage of a murmuration of a few thousand Starlings taken on 19th November 2011, at dusk, on a lovely clear day just off the coast of West Kirby, Wirral near Liverpool, UK. Video #2 by Mike Austin

Starling Murmuration, at Gretna over 1 million starlings, taking evasive action

Top right: Taking evasive action; A large flock of starlings twist into ever-changing shapes as a peregrine falcon on the left heads towards the birds. This is part of a large mass of starlings, numbering over 1 million, that congregate every evening at sunset during the winter months to perform an elaborate aerobatic display before roosting for the night in conifer plantations. Left: Starling Murmuration. Lower right: Starlings at Gretna. Photo #11 by Walter Baxter & #12 by rocketjohn & #13 by Walter Baxter from

Flock of starlings in Burgos

Flock of starlings in Burgos. Researchers found that it doesn’t matter if a flock consists of over 100 birds, or more than 4,000, if any one bird turned and changed speed, so would all the others. “The ‘most surprising and exotic feature’ of the flocks was their near-instantaneous signal-processing speed. ‘How starlings achieve such a strong correlation remains a mystery to us’,” they wrote. Photo #14 by Mario Modesto Mata

A Sky Full of Starlings

A Sky Full of Starlings. Thousands and thousands of starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) getting ready to roost at Ham Wall, Somerset Levels – an incredible sight. “A new mathematical analysis of flight dynamics in flocks of starlings suggest this is because the birds are effectively a single network, with every bird’s movements affected by every other bird’s movements, as if they were all connected together.” Photo #15 by Janie Easterman

“In episode three of The Code, Marcus du Sautoy travels to Denmark to watch a flock of starlings as they make their annual migration from southern Europe to Scandinavia and marvels at their formation known as the black sun. He uses maths to explain how each bird only has to worry about the position of his seven nearest neighbours.” Video #3 by BBC

The starlings are an astonishing thing to see – Near Oxford – England. “This was filmed at an RSPB reserve called Otmoor. It is the most remarkable thing I have ever seen – and as a video camerman I have seen some pretty amazing things. “Short Documentary about one of natures most amazing spectacles: Otmoor is a magical nature reserve of wet meadows and reedbeds. It is a haven in winter for thousands of ducks, such as teal and wigeon, and in spring and summer for breeding wading birds, such as lapwing and redshank. The reedbed hosts a spectacular starling roost during the winter months.” Video #4 by dylanwinter1

Starlings flocking at sunset over Roma, Italia

Starlings flocking at sunset over Roma, Italia. Audubon Magazine stated, “Peter Friederici wrote about starling murmurations in his piece, “Flight Plan,” describing how they move across the sky while researchers study them in Rome: “Thousands coalesce and form dense spheres, ellipses, columns, and undulating lines, sequentially changing the shape of their flocks within moments. They exasperate many residents, who tire of the droppings they leave behind. Others love their elaborate displays.” Photo #16 by coincidentalimages

5 million starlings stream into Rome every winter evening. They form some of the most mesmeric aerial displays to confuse and avoid a peregrine falcon on the look out for his evening meal. Video #5 by JohnDownerProd

A murmuration of starlings seen at mid-day between Corinth and Athens in November

A murmuration of starlings seen at mid-day between Corinth and Athens in November. Photo #17 by muffinn

A small segment of a spectacular fly by of thousands of starlings at Brighton pier

A small segment of a spectacular flyby of thousands of starlings at Brighton pier. Photo #18 by Ray Wewerka

A short film that follows the journey of two girls in a canoe on the River Shannon and how they stumble across one of nature’s greatest phenomenons; a murmuration of starlings. Video #6 by IslandsAndRivers

Auklet flock, Shumagins

Auklet flock, Shumagins. Even complex algorithmic models haven’t fully explained the synchronization of a starling flock in flight, acrobatics “which rely on the tiny bird’s quicksilver reaction time of under 100 milliseconds to avoid aerial collisions—and predators—in the giant flock. The birds tend to flock together for protection and can reach speeds of up to 20 mph.” Photo #19 by D. Dibenski

Waltz of the Starlings or PacMan about to chomp? Photo #20 by Desktop Nexus

Snippet of BBC Swarm: Nature’s Incredible Invasions. Video #7 by BBC via Dewey Le

Yet another perspective on murmuration called ‘Macrowikinomics Murmuration.’ Video #8 by dontapscottgroup

Spectacled teals fly over the Lake of Geumgang in Gunsan near Seoul

Flyover at the Lake of Geumgang in Gunsan near Seoul. Photo #21 by Totally Cool Pix

Snake about to chomp Buzzard

The photographer thought this flock resembled a “Snake about to chomp Buzzard.” Photo #22 by snapp3r

Starling Mumurations

Starling Mumuration, swarming for survival. The Telegraph‘s Mathematics of murmurating starlings states, “Until recently such sights were common over London. Indeed, in 1949 so many roosted on the hands of Big Ben that they stopped the clock. Sadly, such invasions are a thing of the past, but Rome is currently subject to a vast influx of several million birds each winter. This produces spectacular swarms, but the problems associated with the roosts are not so wondrous. Starling droppings are extremely acidic and the authorities are worried about the damage to ancient ruins, while car owners have to pay out millions of euros for resprays.” Photo #23 by rocketjohn

Starlings attack of the birds

Starlings, attack of the birds. Photo #24 by Tony Armstrong

Starlings over Tøndermarsken, south-west Jutland, Denmark

Starlings over Denmark. According to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ research, “The behavior of the flock of starlings is different to the behavior of a group following a leader. Such a group would move in the same direction and would appear strongly ordered, but there would be no passing of information between individuals and so behavioral fluctuations are independent, with changes in direction of an animal other than the leader having little effect on other members of the group. The starlings’ behavior is an example of self-organization, and the collective response to events such as attack by predators gives them a distinct advantage.” Photo #25 by Tommy Hansen

Starling flocks huge overhead, Break out the umbrella

Break out the umbrella? Photo #26 by snapp3r

Flock of starlings acting as a swarm, flock of European Starlings gathers at sunset to roost

Top left: The flock of starlings acting as a swarm. The radio masts at Anthorn are visible for the moment. Right: A flock of European Starlings gathers at sunset to roost, Fortron Services, M6 Motorway near Lancaster. Lower left: Starlings at dusk amazing display as 500,000 starlings roost in a Wrexham village. Photo #27 by John Holmes & #28 by Paul Adams & #29 by BBC North East Wales

The Greatest Bird Show on Earth. “What is remarkable about the starlings’ behaviour is that, despite all appearances, there is no choreographer and, as far as we know, no leader. Each individual bird is just following local rules. The numbers of individual birds in these flocks can run into thousands, yet they almost literally never collide. That is just as well for, given the speed at which they fly, any such impact would severely injure them. Often the whole flock seems to behave as a single individual, wheeling and turning as one. It can look as though the separate flocks are moving through each other in opposite directions, maintaining their coherence intact as separate flocks. This makes it seem almost miraculous, but actually the flocks are at different distances from the camera and do not literally move through each other. It adds to the aesthetic pleasure that the edges of the flocks are so sharply defined. They don’t peter off gradually, but come to an abrupt boundary. The density of the birds just inside the boundary is no less than in the middle of the flock, while it is zero outside the boundary.” Richard Dawkins, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Video #9 by TheBlackahole

Ballet of the starlings

Ballet of the starlings. “Scientists had to wait for the tools of high-powered video analysis and computational modeling. And when these were finally applied to starlings, they revealed patterns known less from biology than cutting-edge physics,”Wired Science explained. “Starling flocks, it turns out, are best described with equations of “critical transitions” — systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition. Starlings may simply be the most visible and beautiful example of a biological criticality that also seems to operate in proteins and neurons, hinting at universal principles yet to be understood.” Photo #30 by Scenic Reflections


The Telegraph reported, “‘Numbers build up slowly near the roost over the afternoon as small groups of birds return from foraging in the area,’ explains Paul Stancliffe of the British Trust for Ornithology. ‘By late afternoon there is a huge swirling cloud. It’s all about safety in numbers – none wants to be on the outside, none wants to be first to land’.” Photo #31 by Peggy via JohnStone Journal

Flock of Starlings over Scotland

Flock of Starlings over Scotland. If you are interested, then you can hear the ‘song‘ of a common or European starling. Photo #32 by Wallpapers5

Flock of Starlings

Flock of Starlings. Just as some people use their imagination and see shapes in the clouds, this could resemble a bent fisted arm that is flexing a muscle? Photo #33 by Free Wallpaper Point

Artists of the sky

Artists of the sky. Wikipedia states, The Common Starling is a noisy bird uttering a wide variety of both melodic and mechanical-sounding sounds, including a distinctive ‘wolf-whistle’. Starlings are mimics, like many of its family. In captivity, Starlings will learn to imitate all types of sounds and speech earning them the nickname ‘poor-man’s Myna’. Songs are more commonly sung by males, although females also sing. Songs consist of a mixture of mimicry, clicks, wheezes, chattering, whistles, rattles, and piping notes.” Photo #34 by Scenic Reflections

Startling starlings

Startling starlings.”Besides song, 11 other calls have been described, including a Flock Call, Threat Call, Attack Call, Snarl Call, and Copulation Call. Birds chatter while roosting and bathing—making a great deal of noise that can frustrate local human inhabitants. Even when a flock of starlings is completely silent, the synchronized movements of the flock make a distinctive whooshing sound that can be heard hundreds of meters away.” Photo #35 by Scenic Reflections

Murmuration, Blackpool

Murmuration, Blackpool. Photo #36 by Dark Archive

Winter murmuration of starlings on the beach

Winter murmuration of starlings on the beach. Photo #37 by Dark Archive

If you find aerial acrobatics of murmuration to be hypnotic, then here are several more video to watch the far out flocking phenomenon. Enjoy! European Starlings before going home to roost (real action after about 3 minutes). Video #10 by GLASSIKAL via kinorkinor

Immense magical murmuration of Spectacular Starlings and a single falcon over Gretna, Scotland. Video #11 by Fifi48

Spectacular Super Giant Murmuration Flock of Starlings up close. “I went back to the reserve and the giant flock or murmuration of Starlings was right next to me this time. The most amazing sight I have ever seen in my life. They actually flew right over my head at one point. I reckon there must have been getting on for several hundred thousand birds in the flock. Truly amazing sight,and it happens every single night during Winter.” Video #12 by youdanxxx

1 Minute of 100,000 starlings filling the skies in Poole. Video #13 by Mark Rigler

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