Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Starling Ballet

I received the video below in an email.  The footage is truly amazing.  Here’s the accompanying narrative:

*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 winters frigid bite. Scientists aren't sure how they do it, either. The starlings' murmurations are manifestations of swarm intelligence, which in different contexts is practiced 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 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.

I have mixed feelings about Starlings.  While I love all wild birds, Starlings are not native to the United States and have caused a host of problems.  In the cold weather months I deal with them daily and have found them to be, without a doubt, the dirtiest of birds.  They defecate everywhere and on anything, including their food and in their water.  I am always cleaning feeders and changing water to prevent transmission of disease.  But even more serious is their effect on native cavity-dwelling birds.  For instance, ornithologists have  attributed the recent decline of Red-bellied Woodpeckers to marauding starlings who steal their nesting and roosting spots.

In their native Europe, however, they are truly something to see as this video demonstrates.  

*Lending yet more credence to my argument that there is much  humans do not yet know or understand about animals!

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