Saturday, 14 December 2013

Murmuration of Starling (part 1)


Yesterday I told you I was go into show you something that I have always wanted to see.  Well on 7 November this year I was not only able to achieve that but videoed it and today I will show you.  On a cold windy but clear skied evening at dusk, I waited for the
 


Murmuration of Starlings
to arrive over the Albert Bridge in Belfast.  So really the post is mainly the video at the end of the first birds gathering and watching the rest join in the group until there were tens of thousands doing their aerobatic manoeuvres in the night sky.

 
 
Starling
 
Would you pull over your car just to watch some starlings? A gathering of only a few of these speckled, iridescent-black birds isn’t a very alluring sight—particularly in North America, where these birds are invaders. The European Starling was originally introduced here by a group of well-meaning Shakespeare enthusiasts in 1880, but many Americans now consider them to be pests that serve little purpose other than to dirty car windshields and destroy crops. 
 
 
Scientists have been studying this phenomenon for years, watching the dazzling cloud, swirling, pulsating, drawing together to the thinnest of waists, then wildly twisting in pulses of enlargement and diminution.   It’s certainly is worth stopping your car for, and even though my still camera has no big lens, the light conditions were bad, and I shot the whole thing through my view finder when mostly I could not see the birds at all, still I hope you would find the video interesting.
 
 

So how do these masses of birds move so synchronously, swiftly, and gracefully? This isn’t an idle question—it has attracted the attention of physicists interested in how group behaviour can spontaneously arise from many individuals at once.  In 2010, Andrea Cavagna and colleagues at the National Council of Research and the University of Rome used advanced computational modelling and video analysis to study this question. They found that starling flocks model a complex physical phenomenon, seldom observed in physical and biological systems, known as scale-free correlation.


Surprising as it may be, flocks of birds are never led by a single individual.  Even in the case of flocks of geese, which appear to have a leader, the movement of the flock is actually governed collectively by all of the flock members.  But the remarkable thing about starling flocks is their fluidity of motion.  As the researchers put it, “the group respond[s] as one” and “cannot be divided into independent subparts.”
 

When one starling changes direction or speed, each of the other birds in the flock responds to the change, and they do so nearly simultaneously regardless of the size of the flock. In essence, information moves across the flock very quickly and with nearly no degradation. The researchers describe it as a high signal-to-noise ratio.

This scale-free correlation allows starlings to greatly enhance what the researchers call “effective perceptive range,” which is another way of saying that a starling on one side of the flock can respond to what others are sensing all the way across the flock—a huge benefit for a starling trying to avoid a falcon.
 

A new study on starling flocks and led by George Young at Princeton, did their own analysis of murmuration images to see how the birds adjust to their flock mates. They determined that starlings in large flocks consistently coordinate their movements with their seven nearest neighbours. They also found that the shape of the flock, rather than the size, has the largest effect on this number; seven seems optimal for the tightly connected flocks that starlings are known for.

Imagine a game of telephone: one person passes a message along to the next person, who repeats it to another, and so on. For humans, the telephone message loses information very quickly—that’s what makes the game fun.
The first finding, by Cavagna’s team, suggests that very little information is lost in a starling flock. The second finding, by Young’s team, suggests that starlings “play telephone” with their seven nearest neighbours. Somehow they are able to process messages from those seven neighbours all at once, and this is a part of their method for achieving scale-free correlation.
Still, neither finding explains how starlings are capable of such extraordinary collective responses.
As the researchers admit, “How starlings achieve such a strong correlation remains a mystery to us.”

The video can be accessed at

http://youtu.be/J_H05UBqIwg

Now it is certainly a time for a cuppa and to sit back and enjoy this wonderful spectcale of nature.

Roger on a comment on google + suggested I take the background sound out and add music which I have now done so thanks Roger for that sugggestion as the video is much better.  Click off the Ad at the beginning.

If there is a black space below, click it and the video will appear.





I know the video was a bit long however I wanted you to see it from a couple of hundred birds arriving until the ball of Starling was complete.  It really took about 40 mintues for them all to arrive and join the group. 

When I reallised they had all arrived and were ready to descend to roost under the bridge for the night, I decided to let my video run continuously and it took 4 minutes 50 seconds for them all do that. 
Tomorrow I will show you that video.   I personally found this fascinating and amazing.  I hope I have been able to convey some of the excitement I expereienced on that evening.

Many thanks for visiting and also for leaving comments.  A special thanks for those bloggers who suggested what the sheep were saying.  I did indeed get a great laugh from that. I nearly choked laughing when I read Roy's reply but oh so true!


33 comments:

  1. Beautiful video of starlings.
    Amazing natural phenomenon is this.
    Really great to see this.

    Have a great weekend,
    Greetings Irma

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  2. HI Irma Many thanks for your comment and I am so glad you enjoyed the video. Have a wonderful weekend.

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  3. Hello Margaret, it is an amazing sight to see. The third photo down they are in a heart shape. Cool. Great photos and video. Happy weekend to you!

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    1. Hi Eileen So glad you enjoyed the video. You know I did not see the heart in the 3rd shot until you pointed it out. I wonder how many more shapes we could make out of the wole thing. MAny thanks for your comment and have a great weekend.

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  4. wonderful Margaret to experience this; it is indeed an amazing scene to witness. You must've been hanging out to access your video on your computer back home

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  5. HI Carole Yes I agree.You are quite right, i could not get home fast enough to know if any of the video came out. I was amazed at how well it did work considering the light condition and me not being able to see here the birds were. if I saw a bit of black, I pointed the camera. Very scientific!! I was nearly frozen alive after the time I spent there because I was there for at least half an hour before any Starlings showed up!! Glad you enjoyed the video and thanks for comment.

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  6. That is quite a spectacle! I just saw a TV show on NOVA that demonstrated how a flock of miniature helicopters kept in formation by sensing the nearest 5 helicopters. Doesn't approach the starlings' capability but does show how complex the computer in a little bird brain can be!

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  7. Incredible to watch, Margaret. I didn't realize starling murmurations were still a mystery.

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    1. HI EG Glad you enjoyed the video. Since shooting the film, I have done quite a bit of research on this subject adn it is fascinating what they do adn don't know about the Starlings. Of course, I have only given a little bit of my findings on the blog. Many thanks for your comment.

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  8. HI Kenneth Many thanks for your comments. That is interesting about the helicopters. I have just remember that years ago we were doing a drama and some workshops which required us to weave in and out of 12 people. At the beginning we were quite far apart but gradually we were able to weave VERY close to one another without speaking or touching. I suppose shoals of fish have the same in built mechanism as the Starlings.

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  9. Yes Ilearned from my Father to pulled and be still :-) I/we still pull over, the formation is awesome, in Vancouver BC they'd become a huge problem in the '80's the city set out to discourage them, the same thing happened in the North of France in the early 2000's I do not know if their étourneau population was eventually fixed..these are great shots-

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  10. Yes that is a fantastic sight, i have only seen it once...........no camera


    peter

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  11. Hi Margaret, I can't stand Starlings around here --but luckily, we never have many. Every once in awhile a huge bunch of them will stop by and eat everything in my bird feeders before moving on. They are pretty birds --but can be such a nuisance.

    Hope you are having a good week.
    Hugs,
    Betsy

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  12. HI Betsy Sorry to hear you can't stanad Starlings. I can undertadn if they are a nuisancce in your area howe ver I hope you watched this spectical as it is wonderful the wa they whirl round and round. Thanks for your comment.

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  13. Mesmerizing, Margaret. I have witnessed this phenomena on a much smaller scale. There are so many questions raised by it ... not only how do they do it, but why and how does it end? Do they break up into their own little flocks or do they remain in the big flock without doing the dance. And then if they do dance again what causes it to happen. I love the mysteries of nature. And I also don't feel the need to have all the answers ... I just enjoy. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience ...

    Andrea @ From The Sol

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  14. You were fortunate to be able to photograph this! And thank you such an informative post. I enjoyed seeing and reading about this phenomena.

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    1. HI Anne It was a miracle I was able to video this!! Glad you enjyed seeing it and reading the information also. Thanks for comment.

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    1. HI Judy glad you enjoyed it and thanks for comment.

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  16. HI Andrea I am glad you enjoyed the video and if you watch tomorrow’s video, it will answers some of your questions. From a suggestion from a comment I received on google +, of cutting the sound out and playing music, I am in the process of doing this and I think the whole video will be much better then. However tomorrows’ video will have background sound because when the Startling have gone under the bridge to roost, I walked along and tried to record all their chatterings. Thanks for your comment. (I managed to get the music on)

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  17. the shape-shifting ribbons and balls they create are amazing. thanks for sharing this.

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    1. HI Tex. Thanks for comment and glad you enjoyed the video.

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  18. We see this phenomena fairly often in our area, and we always marvel at it. I appreciated the research information that you provided, but it ultimately comes down to "nobody knows," doesn't it? Interesting post.

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  19. That is total fascinating.It looks like the birds are eager to join this ballet in the sky.Yes,I would most certainly take the time to watch that.even if Starlings are somewhat of a nuisance.

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  20. Margaret, I will look out the video taken at Leighton Moss. It shows them flying in layers about six feet apart. It does take a raptor or two to make for interesting patterns.

    They seem to have done well this year.

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  21. Yes, we have this here! It is like they are doing a huge dance, a lovely waltz.And now I know how they do it thanks to you. The only things I have been able to think of is they do it to confuse or loose their enemies. They are also much more maneuverable then the big hawks. I love your solo portrait. Our starlings migrated from Europe. They can also be taught to talk.

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  22. Hi there - its been a very long time since I have seen one of these big flocks - there used to be a significant roost in the centre of Newcastle. As far as I know the biggest flocks only occur in the winter - so I may have to give up some of my summer to see one!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Hi Stewart Glad you have seen one of these in person. They are at their best in October and November. Well at least if you came at this ime you would also see the Pale bellied Bent Geese!! Many thanks for comment.

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  23. Starlings are beautifully plumage.
    It was only during my stay in England I saw them up close.
    I send greetings.
    Lucia

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  24. One of natures true spectacles Margaret.
    Something a lot of people could see themselves, if only they opened their eyes. Brilliant.

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  25. HI Keith Yes I agree. This is haening as people are going home from work. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for comment.

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