An unexpected murmuration.
November 3, 2011 5:03 AM   Subscribe

An unexpected murmuration.
posted by Jofus (80 comments total) 85 users marked this as a favorite

 
Beautiful.

It's no wonder that omens were read in the movement of birds when there were sufficient numbers of them that this was a regular experience.
posted by odinsdream at 5:07 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


!
posted by From Bklyn at 5:12 AM on November 3, 2011


That's fabulous. I've seen much smaller murmurations, and they're incredible.
posted by OmieWise at 5:16 AM on November 3, 2011


Here's my reaction to this video while it ran, expressed as a sequence of emoticons:

:-/

:-o

:-D
posted by Kattullus at 5:19 AM on November 3, 2011 [13 favorites]


I love the word murmuration. It sneaks up on you, and you're well into it before you realize how unexpectedly beautiful it is. In a way, it's much like that video you've just shared. Fittingly, I can't explain quite why, but you've just made my morning. Thanks.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:20 AM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


For anyone else who wondered about this while watching: How does a flock of birds turn in unison?
posted by pete_22 at 5:28 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, when it's over and they catch their breath and laugh at the wonder.
posted by pracowity at 5:30 AM on November 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


Amazing and beautiful and sad to think that many of us will never see this, and in the near future it likely won't be seen anywhere at all. But we've got the Kardashian divorce and a new iWhatever on the inevitable horizon and probably a new sandwich shop will open in NY, so it all evens out!
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:34 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is power in a union.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:38 AM on November 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


Very cool.

Ladies - put some life preservers on for the canoe trip eh?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:40 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


How does a flock of birds turn in unison?

There is more recent work with flocking simulations specifically related to starlings.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:43 AM on November 3, 2011


I've seen these before, but that was a particularly big one. Plus the most recent one I saw was while I was driving on the Interstate, where you can't just stop and gawk.
posted by DU at 5:45 AM on November 3, 2011


There's a moment about halfway through where the birds come really close for the first time and the camerawoman gasps in wonder. That's the best bit of the video; really of any video.

Just so you know.
posted by Jofus at 5:45 AM on November 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Love it!
posted by rebent at 5:47 AM on November 3, 2011


That's beautiful! I needed something beautiful this morning. Thank you.
posted by wiskunde at 5:48 AM on November 3, 2011


Here is a previous post I did about flocking behavior and simulations.
posted by OmieWise at 5:49 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


That astonished laugh by the one young lady at the end is the proper reaction, I think.

Thanks for posting that. Astonishing and magical.
posted by zzazazz at 5:52 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doing the wave!
I wonder what gets this sort of extended period of flocking started? I've always figured it was likely to happen at the beginning or during seasonal migrations. Could they be warming up, tuning their reflexes to be ready for evasive action during the trip, as described in pete's link? Or is it just fun--sort of like how the cousins begin playing hide-and-seek or tag or football whenever they get together for the holidays.

Via the above link: more about boids .
posted by TreeRooster at 5:55 AM on November 3, 2011


Oh, sorry OmieWise--I recommend going through your post as well!
posted by TreeRooster at 5:57 AM on November 3, 2011


1 minutes silence for the inventor of the portable video camera, please. Breathtaking!
posted by JtJ at 5:57 AM on November 3, 2011


Wow, wow, wow. At the beginning I was kind of going, "okay, yes, whatever," and then the moment when they part so cleanly - wow. Fantastic. And then that laugh at the end - yes, exactly. Lovely!
posted by marginaliana at 6:02 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nice find! Thanks!
posted by HuronBob at 6:10 AM on November 3, 2011


I wonder what gets this sort of extended period of flocking started?

According to this article, "numbers build up slowly near the roost over the afternoon as small groups of birds return from foraging in the area... Each bird strives to fly as close to its neighbours as possible, instantly copying any changes in speed or direction. As a result, tiny deviations by one bird are magnified and distorted by those surrounding it, creating rippling, swirling patterns... Starlings are tasty morsels for peregrines, merlins and sparrowhawks. The answer is to seek safety in numbers, gathering in flocks and with every bird trying to avoid the edge where adept predators can sometimes snatch a victim."

The starling flocking simulations linked above indicate that compression (where the flock bunches up) is a necessary feature of a rapid turn of the flock.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:10 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would not have wanted to be under that, though. That's a lot of bird poop, i imagine.
posted by empath at 6:14 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are the crows gathering outside my window? BAG OFF YOU LOT
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:21 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Amazing and beautiful and sad to think that many of us will never see this, and in the near future it likely won't be seen anywhere at all.

?

Are starlings endangered or something? I'd always thought Starlings : Pigeons :: Mice : Rats. No?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:23 AM on November 3, 2011


That was really beautiful.

Starling populations have declined enormously in Europe, and they are a species of concern in some countries.

I would be happy to send them the ones we have here in the U.S., where we have ~200 million of them, all descendents of fewer than a 100 birds introduced in Central Park at the turn of the last century by a nut who thought the U.S. should have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. They can especially have the ones that nest in the eaves of our house.
posted by rtha at 6:26 AM on November 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


Imagine when this was a common sight. If you lived fairly far north you could watch this during the day and the aurora borealis at night. Who needs movies.
My grade school had classes that faced a pasture with hills behind it. I watched swarms of starlings chase hawks around several times. Nothing like that size though.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:39 AM on November 3, 2011


I was once stuck in a plane on the tarmac of an airport I can't remember when one of these appeared. The plane had otherwise been silent -- mostly businesspeople flying alone, just trying to bear the delay with their newspapers or whatever -- but, bit by bit, you could hear people in the window seats on the right side of the plane start to gasp, and then giggle, and then call over strangers from across the aisle. It was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen and experienced, and one of the few memories I cherish from my years of soul-depleting business travel.

Thank you so much for posting this.
posted by argonauta at 6:45 AM on November 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


Lovely--thanks!
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:47 AM on November 3, 2011


I would not have wanted to be under that, though. That's a lot of bird poop, i imagine.

I've visited Bracken Cave several times with math camp, and besides the absolutely jaw-dropping experience of watching 20 million bats flying overhead, my other key memory is that our guide would always be sure to tell us to cover our drinks if we had one. You can't really feel it per se, but there's definitely a guano maelstrom landing on everybody.

(One year the camp director decided we should have dinner catered right next to the cave. Not under the flight path, but definitely within intense guano odor range. People's appetites were rather low for that meal. I love you Max, but what were you thinking?!)
posted by kmz at 6:53 AM on November 3, 2011


The sight of the word "murmuration" in a mefi post stirred my soul. And then I saw the video. Terrific!

There are already thousands of these guys (or else grackles, not sure which) here downtown every evening when I'm on my way home from work, doing their natural thing. They are a sure sign of autumn settling in. It's such an amazing sight, whether it's a gigantic conglomeration (like in the video) or just a few hundred. Watching them is a good way to remind myself of what matters.
posted by blucevalo at 7:03 AM on November 3, 2011


I saw a flock turning and swirling like that on an autumn walk a couple years ago. It was much smaller and so it wasn't as dense and liquid-seeming as this, but it was still stunning to watch and I may have stayed about ten or fifteen minutes just to watch it, slowly moving from the sidewalk up through the lot of the abandoned gas station, as it worked its way north.

Great video. Thanks!
posted by ardgedee at 7:09 AM on November 3, 2011


That was beautiful, but it's a little scary when you're actually out there with that many birds.
(I think it's a Hitchcock/du Maurier thing)
Happier to watch a video.
posted by MtDewd at 7:14 AM on November 3, 2011


Thank you! I needed this today.
posted by peagood at 7:15 AM on November 3, 2011


I would not have wanted to be under that, though. That's a lot of bird poop, i imagine.

Now that's what I call thread-shitting!
posted by The Bellman at 7:16 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


That was so gorgeous I teared up a little. And I learned a new word, too! Thanks so much for posting!

How good was it? My original third sentence used the term "full of win." But no, this is too lovely for even heartfelt ironic detachment.
posted by Mchelly at 7:42 AM on November 3, 2011


Seeing this in person is always a case of serendipity, as shown in the girl's face at the end of the clip. Thanks for this.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:45 AM on November 3, 2011


I saw a few of these due to the farm that I lived next to as a kid. I would imagine that huge flocks of birds would come in for kernels dropped on the ground after a harvest. It was always really cool, and it drew me away from whatever I was doing so I could go watch it for a few hours.

The farm stopped producing, and the word is (according to my parents) that they're going to build a new development on the property.
posted by codacorolla at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2011


by a nut who thought the U.S. should have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare's plays

This idea has always fascinated me. However in Google Books, library research, etc. I haven't been able to find any mention before 1947 that Eugene Schieffelin was motivated by Shakespeare-love in his release of starlings. I've found some pre-1947 accounts of Schieffelin's introduction of the birds and none mention Shakespeare. I would love to find something older that supports the Shakespeare thing but it seems unfindable.
posted by gubo at 7:55 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Beautiful, and sadly one of those experiences that are dying out - the look of wonder on the faces brightened my day.

Since we're on starlings, which are an invasive species to the USA, and cause problems for native types, I'll reference something that they replaced:

The centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon is in 2014, and there's a project to commemorate it [video]

Allan W. Eckhert wrote a beautiful book on the subject: Silent Sky, The Incredible Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon

Cliff notes version - Damn Interesting article on the subject

America's 'first' composer, Anthony P Heinrich wrote a piece Legiones columbarum americanarum sylvestrium [The Columbiad] as an ode to the passage of the pigeon, and the glory of nature. Sadly, I couldn't find the piece recorded or performed.
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 8:05 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ahh.. apologies. I linked to the rough cut of the video, missed the new version posted last month. (Or move to version #4 named Message to Martha)
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 8:11 AM on November 3, 2011


Used to see a little of this as a kid in London until they got rid of the starlings, but they do tend to shit a lot.
posted by Not Supplied at 8:32 AM on November 3, 2011


How the hell did they learn how to play the trumpet?!
posted by roue at 8:38 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


My wife and I take our evening constitutional in part around the perimeter of the Ottawa General Hospital. There's a modest patch of woodland on one boundary that is the current overnight roost for thousands of crows that gather from all parts of the city beginning at dusk. As we come by them dotting hundreds of treetops, all we have to do is suddenly stop our walking to trigger an enormous eruption of flight. Oddly enough, there's not a "Caw!" to be heard, just thousands of wings suddenly flapping all at the same time. It really is reminiscent of that moment in the schoolyard scene in "The Birds" where the crows all suddenly lift off to begin their attack. We've done it so many times recently, it's beginning to seem like they're getting used to us so the number of panicky lift-offs is declining. Still more than enough to get the dramatic wingbeat sound, but you also get the feeling that the less startled veterans are now muttering, "Oh come off it and go to sleep!" to the flappers.
posted by Mike D at 8:46 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's no wonder that omens were read in the movement of birds

Supposedly an ancient scribe invented alphabetical writing when looking at the shapes made by flocking cranes.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:50 AM on November 3, 2011


More proof that birds are a fluid.

(Who says there are no second chances in life?)
posted by maudlin at 8:53 AM on November 3, 2011


Just wonderful. I've seen much smaller flocks but never anything like that.
posted by leslies at 9:11 AM on November 3, 2011


stunning. thank you.
posted by shannonm at 9:17 AM on November 3, 2011


How fitting that a group of baboons is called a congress.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:45 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's a lot scarier when the birds are larger, and appear to be circling directly above you. A friend and I were wandering around a beach at night, and we decided we should venture onto a long, private pier, just to see what was worth keeping beyond a chain link fence. At night, a lot of Western Gulls (I think, I'm not great on my birds) were roosting. At first, we didn't really realize how many there were, because they weren't so dense at the end of the pier. But as we crept along, some woke up and started circling, calling others into the air.

There was then a storm of gulls above us, so we turned and ran, screaming and laughing. We still don't know what's on that pier, but we're happy to leave it to the gulls.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:58 AM on November 3, 2011


We used to see fairly large (but not this large!) flocks of birds over our schoolyard, which backed near onto a river plain. i can imagine that the flocks that once gather on the river before drainage would have been astounding like this.

(Also, "murmuration" is one of those collective nouns dreamt up by juliana Barnes is the 1400s. They're nice, but often complete inventions. Nobody ever really used these seriously.)
posted by Jehan at 10:06 AM on November 3, 2011


gubo: This idea has always fascinated me. However in Google Books, library research, etc. I haven't been able to find any mention before 1947 that Eugene Schieffelin was motivated by Shakespeare-love in his release of starlings. I've found some pre-1947 accounts of Schieffelin's introduction of the birds and none mention Shakespeare. I would love to find something older that supports the Shakespeare thing but it seems unfindable.

Oh wow, that's fascinating! It's one of those factoids I've heard so often it's become just accepted knowledge. If you can dig up an origin of that fact, whether it is true or false, I'd be thrilled to know it.
posted by Kattullus at 10:10 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The starlings in Aberystwyth are just fantastic. I don't know if there's any plans to get rid of them, but have heard complaints from car owners.
posted by ceiriog at 10:15 AM on November 3, 2011


I would not have wanted to be under that, though. That's a lot of bird poop, i imagine.

Quite. Here in Rome we get seasonal murmuration twice yearly as the starlings pass through for migration. The aerial spectacle is hypnotic and amazing; the stench of bird shit slicked cobblestones much less so. (And if it rains, watch your footing even more.)
posted by romakimmy at 10:40 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Also, "murmuration" is one of those collective nouns dreamt up by juliana Barnes is the 1400s.

Well, that's alright. Just judging by the sound of the word, it's one of those words meant to be used dreamily. But (I contend) also seriously. And often.

Murmuration. Mur·mur·a·tion. Several hours have passed, and I'm still delighted.
posted by .kobayashi. at 10:50 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Check out these images of a murmuration of starlings at Gretna in Scottish borders, taken on November 1, 2011.
posted by ericb at 11:06 AM on November 3, 2011


Breathlessly beautiful. If you like this you should check out Richard Barnes's "Murmurs" photo series, and watch Herzog's The White Diamond.
posted by oulipian at 11:36 AM on November 3, 2011


Well, that's alright. Just judging by the sound of the word, it's one of those words meant to be used dreamily. But (I contend) also seriously. And often.

Well, I dispute the "seriously" and "often" parts. I've seen plenty of flocks of starlings, and wouldn't've known it was a "murmuring" unless somebody told me. I don't know about round your end, but those names don't exist round here except as jokes.
posted by Jehan at 11:51 AM on November 3, 2011


It's murmuration, not murmuring.

When I'm with my birding friends, though, it's "Those fucking starlings."
posted by rtha at 11:56 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just tried to double post this. Such a bit of glory in the midst of an ordinary day...
posted by jokeefe at 11:59 AM on November 3, 2011


It's murmuration, not murmuring.

Sorry, I don't know.

When I'm with my birding friends, though, it's "Those fucking starlings."

Aye, the collective name for gulls is a "shit" when you're at the seaside.
posted by Jehan at 12:04 PM on November 3, 2011


If you like this you should check out Richard Barnes's "Murmurs" photo series

Those photos are part of the previous post I mentioned upthread.
posted by OmieWise at 12:31 PM on November 3, 2011


It's like nature's screensaver.
posted by CancerMan at 1:02 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


A wonderful post, except for the music. Nature supplies it's own soundtrack.
posted by Hobgoblin at 1:24 PM on November 3, 2011


Stop shaking the Etch-a-Sketch!
posted by incandissonance at 1:53 PM on November 3, 2011


Wow...just...wow. I teared up watching that. Because it was beautiful and because it is not likely that we will see much more like it. Thanks for sharing.
posted by skepticbill at 2:45 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


not quite getting why people keep saying that we won't see more like it - around september to october i see murmurations of starlings up to 2,000 fairly regularly around kalamazoo - even outside my apartment window, which is in the city - through the years their numbers have increased while other birds have decreased
posted by pyramid termite at 3:04 PM on November 3, 2011


not quite getting why people keep saying that we won't see more like it

Didn't you hear? The world is ending in 2012 because of anthropogenic global warming.

Seriously though I sometime forget how lucky I was to have grown up on a farm. Scenes like the one in the video are common in North Dakota. If you think this is impressive with a bird as small as a starling imagine if you were to witness a similar scene where a group of about 4 to 5 million ducks literally blots out the sun twisting, turning, and wheeling about. The sound is a cross between a whistle and a freight train.

Another incredible experience is sitting on the edge of lake before sunrise listening to all the geese and ducks waking up on the water. Then in several massive waves of about 2 to 3 million birds a piece they take off and fly low over the water until they begin climbing once they reach the shore line. Of course this makes it really easy to get you limit of birds before you have to be at school on a weekday morning.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:05 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


not quite getting why people keep saying that we won't see more like it

This is one of those sad moments when you realise that younger generations don't even know the things they've missed.

Flocks used to number in the millions, if not tens of millions. Here's a book you should read.

Given that we've just decimated bees (thank you Monsanto & co) the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. That's not even factoring in the huge illegal killing of flocks through Cyprus, Italy, Spain and France.
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 5:21 PM on November 3, 2011


A long time ago I had a very flock of blackbirds on my back lawn. They were hopping up and down. It seemed like they were trying to pick a leader for their migration group, and logistics. I ran for my camera. I was not fast enough. That flock of birds was a thrilling sight. I really like birds and the more the merrier. Znanja for this post!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:29 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is one of those sad moments when you realise that younger generations don't even know the things they've missed.

this is one of those embarrassing moments when you realize that unless you're over 54, i'm not a member of a younger generation
posted by pyramid termite at 5:42 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


oh, and i read that book - in the 60's, even ...
posted by pyramid termite at 5:45 PM on November 3, 2011


rtha: my internal monologue for the film was "god, this is beautiful, fucking starlings, really lovely, fucking starlings". I lived in a coastal town, and each evening at twilight every starling in town would, simultaneously, take to wing and swarm like this, but less prettily. It's a lot freakier without adorable canoe-hipsters. Beautiful, beautiful video. Fucking starlings.
posted by Iteki at 5:48 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is one of those sad moments when you realise that younger generations don't even know the things they've missed.

This is one of those sad moments when you realise that older generations don't even know the things they will miss.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:44 PM on November 3, 2011


I've seen this once on the coast of California. I wonder what it's purpose is. Does the combination of lots of small intelligences, combined together in a communications network, form a larger intelligence?

Reminds me of Michael Crichton's novel Prey
posted by eye of newt at 10:35 PM on November 3, 2011


Bee colony collapses seem to be linked to invertebrate iridescent virus Cheradine, rather than Monsanto in particular or genetically modified crops in general. If you live near a starling roost you'll see something like this every evening, often in quite urban areas. I used to live near a large reedbed where vast numbers of Starlings came in every evening in a brief but spectacular display. The local pair of peregrines would usually buzz the roost, sometimes hunting but mostly just for fun, and slice through the murmuration like lasers through twisting, sentient smoke. It was a spectacular site and strangely enough I never felt it needed muzak playing at the same time to make it even better.
posted by joannemullen at 1:27 AM on November 4, 2011


/derail incoming, I apologise

joanne

I respectfully disagree. CCD has multiple vectors (including mite predation, said virus, weakened systems due to neonicotinoids (here's some scientific papers on it)) and I wasn't making a point about GM crops.

Monsanto happens to apply a lot of lobbying pressure & has strong ties with Bayer and other pesticide companies, and has the clout to push these chemicals onto the market. Here's the leaked EPA document which is the "smoking gun": if internally an agency states it needs more testing, but gets pressured to allow it on the market anyway, and has some "somewhat scientifically dubious" papers from the producers of the chemical, there's something wrong.

Basic ecology states that a persistent and accumulative poison in the food chain is a very good way to kill a large percentage of it off. We saw it with DDT, and removing vast swathes of food sources will impact bird life, there's no question about it. Long term effects due to concentration up the food chain hasn't even been addressed yet. Nor will it, if the big players have a say.



I'm not going to reply to people who cannot grasp the difference between a 2,000 flock and one of millions in ecological terms. A flock of millions > ipad 16 in terms of sublime wonder, in my view.
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 9:47 AM on November 4, 2011


Another incredible experience is sitting on the edge of lake before sunrise listening to all the geese and ducks waking up on the water. Then in several massive waves of about 2 to 3 million birds a piece they take off and fly low over the water until they begin climbing once they reach the shore line.

I worked for a while at a job that was a few minutes from a really excellent birding spot. It was a water treatment plant, surrounded by salt marshes, right on the edge of San Pablo bay. I kind of hated that job, so I'd often start the day with a little birding, to get me to my happy place.

I was there early one winter morning, and I walked out past the ponds to where the marshes began. I looked out over the marsh grass towards the bay, which was a half-mile or so distant, and saw this strange black cloud, very low. It was rippling and moving, and stretched as far north and south as I could see. The wind shifted a little, and for a few seconds I could hear this kind of...roaring, and a higher-pitched sound. I realized that I was looking at hundreds of thousands (millions? maybe) of ducks and geese starting their morning commute.

It was so surreal, and beautiful. I was late to work that day.
posted by rtha at 10:14 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ooh, this was shot on Lough Derg (west of Ireland) just down from my aunties gaf. Nifty!
posted by Iteki at 5:00 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


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