One of the most spectacular scenes one can witness at dusk during a winter evening is the aerial ballet performed by starlings gathering together to roost for the night.
The starlings of Ot Moor: This video not only shows incredible footage of the beautifully strange swarms, but explains the location and behavior of these particular starlings as well.
While many people call it swarming, the movement of the starlings is actually called a murmuration. And murmurations have mathematical foundations. The Telegraph reports, "Impenetrable as the flock’s movements might seem to the human eye, the underlying maths is comparatively straightforward. 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. In other words, this is a classic case of mathematical chaos (larger shapes composed of infinitely varied smaller patterns). Whatever the science, however, it is difficult for the observer to think of it as anything other than some vast living entity."
The reason for such close proximity and rapid movements has to do with survival -- while moving in this vast flock, each bird is that much safer from raptors like peregrines, merlins and sparrowhawks that attempt to nab dinner from the edges of the murmuration. While they feed in smaller groups by day, the starlings gather at dusk into groups number in the thousands, and sometimes even into the millions.
In this fantastic video, two girls take a canoe trip and capture starlings murmurating over water!
This video shows what it looks like to be right underneath the murmuration before it moves off toward the horizon.
This video is just, wow. And the music choice really makes it into the dance that it is:
In this short clip, you can see several groups of starlings moving (relatively) independently like a gathering of ghosts in the sky near Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, California:
This news clip shows some spectacular footage, plus information about starlings returning to Israel after a 20-year absence -- a decline and return that is still mysterious to scientists:
Here, a videographer talks about his experience putting together what was admittedly his easiest, yet most popular, wildlife footage:
In this incredible footage, starlings move like smoke over the Tiber River in Rome:
This beautiful video shows starlings both in the air against a gorgeous sunset, but also taking off as one giant flock from a field. Gorgeous:
And finally, here is a video so beautifully done that it made the Staff Pick on Vimeo:
These scenes are amazing to behold, and yet have been dramatically diminishing over the last few decades. As The Telegraph reports, "Sadly, starlings have recently declined sharply; the breeding population is down by some 73 per cent since 1970. It is not clear what lies behind this fall, but it is probably due to the loss of suitable nest cavities and a decline in the rough pasture where they find most of the insects which form the backbone of their diet."
But this isn't actually an indication of a threat to the species as a whole. The species population seemed to be much smaller before the industrial revolution. With the improvements in agriculture, the number of birds seems to have taken off. They might simply be returning back to an equilibrium. Indeed, the birds know how to thrive. In 1890, 60 starlings were released in Central Park and can now be found across North America, numbering over 200 million. So anyone living from New York to San Francisco, you might find yourself admiring these murmurations first hand in years to come (while also spending more time and money repairing the damage done by starlings to roosting sites like your roof, garage or barn...).