Starlings - Traffic Contol

It looks like a dark cloud in the evening twilight sky, swirling and smoothly changing shape. A closer look shows a cloud of starlings numbering in the thousands. Their graceful group acrobatics occur without a single collision, and just how and why the starlings perform this dance is a mystery. The flight formation is given the poetic name murmuration. The motion has been described as pulsating, fluid-like, or a waving curtain.

Observations of starling flocks show that a predator often is in the vicinity, perhaps a hawk or falcon. By staying close together as they maneuver the birds may frustrate the hunter’s effort to single out a single starling for capture. At other times with no enemy nearby, the starlings simply appear to enjoy the flying exercise.



Studies show that starlings in flight match their rapid motions closely with 6-7 nearby neighbors. This coordination then spreads in all directions through the flock. What is surprising are the rapid turns of thousands of birds which requires near-instant communication across the entire flock even as the birds fly at 40-50 miles per hour.

The murmuration activity of birds reminds one of the popular “play telephone” game where a secret is passed along from one person to another. By the end of the line, the whispered message is far different from the initial message. With starlings in flight, however, the communication throughout the swarm is precisely duplicated.

Shifting clouds of starlings and other birds are observed worldwide. Murmuration is also seen in groups of insects and schools of fish. Also called swarm intelligence, scientists study starlings for clues to their behavior and also for practical benefits. Understanding the coordinated group motion may increase the safety of highway traffic, especially the advent of driverless cars. Also, increasing numbers of drones are in the sky and starling studies may help manage this air traffic.

 Birds are an impressive part of creation. Beyond their flying skills, equally astounding are their landing abilities, birdsong, migration and more. Birds were created on Day Five of the Creation Week, a time of supernatural events upon the earth and across the universe.      

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