Photos Capture the Shape-Shifting Beauty of Starling Murmurations

The images document the birds' striking aerial ballet.

starling murmurations
Starling murmurations are like a shape-shifting cloud.

Søren Solkær / "Black Sun"

Until recently, Danish photographer Søren Solkær was best known for his portraits of musicians. For the past 25 years, he has taken photos of artists such as Paul McCartney, Pharrell Williams, and the members of R.E.M. and U2. But after seven books and worldwide exhibitions, Solkær turned his camera lens to nature.

He’s spent several years documenting large murmurations of starlings, where thousands of birds swoop, soar, and move simultaneously together like a shape-shifting aerial ballet. He traveled throughout Europe to capture the mesmerizing clouds of birds for his fine art project, “Black Sun.”

Solkær talked to Treehugger about his work and his interest in one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena.

starling murmurations

Søren Solkær / “Black Sun”

Treehugger: How did you become interested in murmurations of starlings?

Søren Solkær: I witnessed a couple of starling murmurations in the marshlands of Western Denmark as a child. The visual beauty of the sight has never left me and therefore I have revisited the phenomenon as an adult and artist.

starling murmurations

Søren Solkær / “Black Sun”

Why do you find them fascinating?

SS: The starlings seem to move as one unified organism that vigorously opposes any outside threat.  The graphic and organic shapes of the starling murmurations range from meditative to highly dramatic as they perform their incredible ballet about life and death.

starling murmurations

Søren Solkær / “Black Sun”

Where did your work take you when documenting starlings?

SS: The first two years I only photographed near the Danish/German border. I then started wondering where the starlings would migrate to when they left that area. 

That led me to Holland, Rome, Catalonia, and Southern England. It was amazing to see the murmurations, that I knew so well by then, take place in totally different landscapes from the ones I knew.

starling murmurations

Søren Solkær / “Black Sun”

How did you capture what you saw?

SS: I have almost done stills the whole time. My girlfriend, who is a filmmaker, has captured film on many of our trips. 

On recent trips, I have started filming as well when she was not around. It has been technically challenging to photograph murmurations as most of the action happens as it is getting dark.

starling murmurations

Søren Solkær / “Black Sun”

What did you hope to convey by your work?

SS: I am hoping to inspire people to see the magic and great beauty in nature. And also to get out and experience it for themselves.

Also, I am interested in the link between art and shapes in nature. I have been very inspired by calligraphy and Japanese woodcuts as a reference whilst creating these images.

starling murmurations

Søren Solkær / “Black Sun”

For people who have never witnessed murmurations, how would you describe it?

SS: When birds of prey attack large flocks of starlings, shapes and black lines of condensation form within the swarm, often resembling birds and large sea animals across the horizon.

At times the flock seems to possess the cohesive power of superfluids, changing shape in an endless flux: From geometric to organic, from solid to fluid, from matter to ethereal, from reality to dream — an exchange in which real-time ceases to exist and mythical time pervades. This is the moment I have attempted to capture — a fragment of eternity.