Monday, December 24, 2018

Murmuration Saturation

I have witnessed starling murmurations before, but always at a great distance.

So when I passed a huge flock of starlings murmurating their little 4-chambered hearts out in a pasture off US-27, I pulled over just as fast as I could.

The dogs, Bear and Coquina, were with me, but this time they had to sit in the JEEP while I bird-nerded out at the pasture fence.

Before me, just a few feet away,  thousands of birds flowed like water... like intelligent water. 
They were close enough that the swoosh of thousands of wing pairs actually sounded like water. 
(I think on the video, the passing traffic sounds drown that out a bit.)

The sky dynamics of the murmuration as seen in the first video is wonderful and the part of this Sky-Tango that I had seen before.
And yes, I am always blown away by that, although as previously mentioned, usually from a great distance.

But this time, I was up close and personal to the ground level choreography and that was just as gobsmackingly amazing as the shimmering blur of an airborne murmuration. 

At times the birds poured, at near ground level, through the pasture fence and onto the grassy road shoulder where I was.

We were that close.

Here is the part that I had never witnessed. 
When the flock was descending and flowing along the ground, birds from above continuously advanced the leading edge of the ground flock by landing together directly in front of the leading edge.
In effect, row by fluid row, they replaced the front line. It was completely efficient, organized, and fluid.  

And beautiful to behold. 

On the ground, they seemed to be working the pasture grass for food, ... seeds, bugs ... whatever. 
In this system, everybody got fresh ground to search, because every row landed in front of the leading edge at that moment, and everyone moved forward until something triggered a flight to a new area where the same systematic movement happened again.

Here's a little bit of the science behind these bird brains from NPR.

A few years ago, George F. Young and his colleagues investigated starlings' "remarkable ability to maintain cohesion as a group in highly uncertain environments and with limited, noisy information" — a nice description of what goes on in a murmuration.
Going in, Young et al. already knew that starlings pay attention to a fixed number of their neighbors in the flock, regardless of flock density — seven, to be exact. Their new contribution was to figure out that "when uncertainty in sensing is present, interacting with six or seven neighbors optimizes the balance between group cohesiveness and individual effort."
The full article is here.

Every day I work, I wonder ... "What am I missing out there?"
It's events like this that keep that question swirling in my head.


threecollie said...

That is awesome! I never knew about the seven but now I will think of it every time we spot a mumuration. We saw one a few weeks ago over the "noses" the two big mountains to our west. There was a Peregrine Falcon chasing them and they contorted into incredible shapes. Love your videos...and love "intelligent water". Perfect description.

R.Powers said...

Thanks 3C!

Miz S said...

Murmurations are my favorite!Thanks for sharing the video and your always astute observations. Merry Christmas!

R.Powers said...

Merry Christmas to one of the funniest bloggers evah Miz S!

Anchor Cottage said...

Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas from the Leelanau Peninsula.

R.Powers said...

Merry Christmas Anchor C!
Googling Leelanau Peninsula now !

robin andrea said...

Wow! So lucky to see such a beautiful sight. Thank you for recording it. Happy Christmas season to you and your family.

Paul said...

I'm glad you (we) were able to witness and record this.

Mark P said...

We used to see huge flocks ofn starlings around here (Rome Ga), but that was many years ago -- probably 50 years ago. I haven't seen such a flock in all the intervening years. I wondering what happened to them. Now I know. They flew down to your neck of the woods.

Vicki said...

Wow. Just wow. I've marveled at them at a distance but to be so close! Lucky you!

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