One of my favorite things to do when I lived in Spain was sit on my rooftop terrace at sunset. From there I could watch dark birds glide in  air currents around the cathedral towers. It was like being able to see the wind.

When I first saw a video of a starling murmuration, I though it was the same phenomenon. After all, the shapes that these flocks of thousands form into look like the rolling of waves, the inflation of clouds. But apparently scientists still aren’t sure how individual creatures operate on a mass scale. The best theory compares the starling flock to a liquid becoming a gas, or the origin of an avalanche. These are all systems on the brink of transition, capable of instantaneous change. Not surprisingly, this is a theory that comes out of physics; starlings are one of the few macrobiological examples of phase transitions. The only contribution from biology is that this might be an evolutionary tactic to avoid predators, but it’s still unknown how simultaneous communication occurs between thousands of these birds. The only thing we know for sure is that it’s beautiful:

This is the video I first saw and is pretty cool because the birds fly directly overhead. Starts at 0:22:

Advertisements