Better Than Coffee: The Flocking Behavior of Starlings

Who else here has a list (I mean an actual, tangible, ink-on-paper list) of places they want to go and things they want to do/see before they kick the bucket? Anyone? Care to share?

Near the tippy top of my own list is a visit to England specifically to witness massive flocking formations of starlings over the moors in the West Midlands. Hundreds of thousands of them gather each year to tumble together through the air at dusk, swerving suddenly, veering arbitrarily, always in perfect unison, never colliding, sometimes for hours before coming down to roost for the evening. Birders travel from all over the world to observe the phenomenon. Scientists have been studying their swarming behavior to develop artificial technology:

Before I die, I must see this with my own eyes. International Coilhouse field trip, anyone?

What would you want to do?

(More flocking clips after the jump.)

You might want to turn the sound off for a lot of these and put something more personally appropriate to you on the stereo. (I’m cranking some Slowdive.)


Starlings being dive-bombed by a peregrin falcon. Incredible.

21 Responses to “Better Than Coffee: The Flocking Behavior of Starlings”

  1. Matthew Sheret Says:

    Absolutely incredible. It’s about the only patch of the UK I haven’t got relatives sat on or I’d have made the trip myself before. I figure it alongside the Northern Lights, weird as that sounds, as this beautiful phenomena that’ll just awe me.

  2. Mer Says:

    Matthew, I completely understand that comparison. The Northern Lights are on my list as well.

    (Along with this, and this and more imminently, this!)

  3. Jon Munger Says:

    I want to see the thorny Vampire Squid floating in the deep oceans. I want to see eagles mate at terminal velocity. I want to see a jaguar drag a beast twice its size up a tree. I want to see wild horses running in China. I want to see a Sea Angel change it’s personality.

  4. Kitty Napalm Says:

    My fiance is from the West Midlands and we’ve just relocated there from the North West. So if you ever do decide to come over, feel free to get in touch!

  5. Matthew Sheret Says:

    Loy Krathong just enchanted me when you posted that, definitely one for my list.
    As for the Pillow Fight Club I clearly need to start one in London, although seeing as we’re all snowed in at the moment it might have to wait for a few days.

  6. Alice Says:

    I always thought that the annual swarming of some sort of blackbird through Maryland was impressive, but they’re nothing compared to these English fellas. I wonder what earlier (like, way-way earlier) people thought of this phenomenon?

    (On a side note, a small flock of geese just flew past my window. I felt like shouting at them, “come on, guys, step it up! Where’re the aerial acrobatics? You’re being shown up by STARLINGS!)

  7. Tequila Says:

    Very mesmerizing. I’ve a similar love and appreciation for the variation fish do of this. Scientific reasons aside I would like to think it’s just damn fun for the birds to do this…that on some level they know they are impressing the hell out of people & other creatures.

  8. Dan Says:

    Well you’re more than welcome to kip at mine. I’m about 30mins drive away from Otmoor.

  9. Jami Says:

    Being a native Californian. I really want to see fireflies and the Aurora Borealis for my own eyes. These starlings just made my list though!

  10. electronic mily Says:

    @Alice – I’m from Maryland, and I was always told those birds that swoop in each year and set up camp all over our yard and the surrounding fields were starlings too, though not such impressive ones as these. There are also the herds of red-winged blackbirds that do the same thing once in a while.

    Either way, I’m always impressed by huge flocks of birds. Whenever I see one settle down in a field I always have this urge to run screaming through the middle of it to see them all lift off together.

  11. Stephanie Says:

    i get a tiny version of that out my studio window looking onto the power plant lines here in sf. :P

    indeed! the ice music festival….maybe a newly wed trip is calling for that instead of japan or scotland….

  12. Infamous Amos Says:

    Having seen the northern lights when I was a kid, I can tell you, it is something that I hope everyone here gets to see at least once. It was years ago, but I still remember it vividly. I actually got kind of pissed at how sweet it was, to tell you the truth. I was in a crappy mood earlier in the day, and then my planet had to go and be so awesome on me for no reason at all. It was like nature’s prozac, you can’t help but feel good seeing it.

    I’ve got a tiny list on the go, but still many things to see and do before I bite it. Still need to see wild lemurs in Madagascar, visit Chartres, and tap dance on Nixon’s grave. Not necessarily in that order.

  13. cappy Says:

    Blegh. Amateurs. :P

    I want to see a sunset… while on Ganymede.

  14. What's in a name anyways? Says:

    I grew up in a place near Vancouver B.C. called Delta. A delta is where a river meets the ocean. In this case the Fraser river and the Pacific ocean meet hence the name. We have a place called the Rifle Bird Sanctuary that is nestled beside the river. Ironic title I know. I have seen a fight of birds like that twice in my life. Maybe even better. It wasn’t at the bird sanctuary but actually at the Delta Dyke. There are many different types of migratory birds resting and feeding in the fertile delta and when they are startled it’s really quite magical to watch. The different flocks all move together in different patterns not just the one species. The sound, all the birds raising alarm…. and the sheer numbers of birds flying together it’s like visiting a waterfall, hard to explain unless you’ve been there. Spending my youth finding new places to smoke weed paid off once in a while. I’d bet you could find the birds in Washington…. Delta literally borders on the states in some places.

  15. Mer Says:

    Dan, Kitty, thank you! I’m gonna hold you to that.

    Infamous Amos, Chartres is absolutely astounding, I hope you go soon and stay a day or two to soak it all in… I only had a few hours, and I was NOT ready to leave. I’ve been contemplating getting their circular labyrinth inked into my flesh for ten years now….

    Cappy, I hear ya. I wanna watch C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.

    What’s in a name, I’ve heard about Rifle Bird! It’s legendary among birders, and I’d love to go there someday during the autumn migration period.

  16. izi Says:

    I saw this happen in georiga once but they were sparrows

  17. Mary Says:

    Starlings do that all over England to a greater or lesser extent. I’ve seen flocks at least close to that big over the Norfolk Broads and closer to home in Essex. We quite regularly get a smaller version – about half as many I guess – over Chelmsford where I work.

    Starlings are great little birds. They are also fabulous mimics and as they are perfectly happy living in towns, quite quickly learn to pretty much perfectly mimic car alarms, mobile and house phones etc. The ones where I used to live used to do the noise of police car sirens going along the nearby motorway complete with Doppler effect.

  18. Kitty Napalm Says:

    P.S. I totally forgot to add what I personally want to see;

    -the Angkor Wat
    -the Catacombs
    -Westport, Connecticut and Kracow, Poland [I have blood ties to both]

    One of my others was the Venice Carnival but I did that last year, and am doing it again in about two weeks. So at least I know I can be bothered going to see these things!

  19. Myrcell Says:

    Although I am an indiscriminate traveler a lot of things just got pushed up on my list.

    Derinkuyu, the underground city in Turkey is right up there are the top, shortly followed by Morocco and Kuala Lumpur. Antarctica is a must but Im not quite sure when I will actually achieve that.

    In response to Kitty, the catacombs are amazing, They are utterly creepy but also just amazingly beautiful.
    One thing that I think everything should see are the galapagos islands. Beautiful and fascinating for a science nerd like me to be able to see all of these species of bird and animal that do not exist elsewhere in the world.

    I’m living in London right now, traveling international every weekend. This discussion is definitely influencing my plans.

  20. Noirishgrrl Says:

    The day before Thanksgiving, my mother and I were traveling in southern Indiana and witnessed a mass starling exodus of some sort. It was the most wonderful/bizarre natural occurance I’ve ever seen!
    At first we thought there was black smoke in the sky, untill I examined further and realized that their were thousands upon thousands of starlings creating this other-worldly serpentine formation. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from, and could barely tell where they were going other than far off to the North-West horizon.
    It reminded me of what a worm-hole in the fabric of time/space would look like.

    It was truely phenomenal, although nobody in the region would have thought it to be news. Sadly enough, the residents of the nearby town and coummunities don’t pay much attention to the wildlife that surrounds them.

  21. Shay Says:

    Amazing. My mom keeps meaning to take me to see an insane sky-darkening scene of Crane feeding up north.

    Just like to say I fully support the International Coilhouse Field Trip Foundation.

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