A flock of thousands of starlings, called a murmuration, is a spectacular thing to see. A whopping 750,000 birds can join together in flight and fuse together and apart for up to 45 minutes in the evening, reported the Washington Post. Scientists think that a murmuration may be a visual invitation to attract other starlings to join their group or a way to protect themselves from predators.
Source: National Geographic/Youtube
Murmurations are constantly changing, and sometimes they are flying up then dashing right back to the ground. The group moves extremely fast as starlings can fly up to 50 mph. It’s a truly beautiful thing to see these birds to this magnificent dance in the sky.
The European starling or common starling forms flocks when they are foraging for food or migrating; however, a murmuration scientists have learned is different. While geese will make a V formation when migrating, starlings’ murmurations happen about an hour before sunset in the fall, winter, and spring when the birds are near where they will sleep for the night. The murmuration, named for the sound of the low murmur the thousands of wings and flight makes, lasts about 45 minutes.
Mesmerizing murmurations have no leader and no choreography. These spectacular birds simply observe what the other starlings around them are doing and move together effortlessly. In footage taken by researchers, they found that the birds are not as densely packed as they appear to be from the ground. They used multiple cameras and a 3D model of the flock and found there was room to move in the murmuration.
Source: Crazy Creatures/Youtube
There is no advantage to flying in a murmuration, so scientists say it is probably a virtual invitation to attract others to the roost for the night. Some believe that having more starlings keeps them warmer overnight, while others think it might be because it reduces the likelihood of a predator attack.
When there are more starlings together in a flock, it means that predators, like an owl, falcon, or hawk, can’t focus on one target and could become confused by the unpredictable wave patterns of the murmurations movements. The more starlings are together, the less likely they will be snagged by a predator.
Predators are most likely to catch the nearest prey or the birds that are on the outside of the flock. With the constantly changing murmuration, the birds are swirling in different positions in and outside of the flock, making it hard for the prey to focus on a target. Scientists call this the selfish herd effect.
In a study with data from over 3,000 scientist volunteers who reported seeming murmurations, a third of them saw a raptor attack the murmuration. This means that murmurations could be forming to help protect birds from predators, but the murmuration could be what attracted the predator in the first place. Although starlings are not in danger of extinction, there are so many birds that are. Some birds are nesting almost a month early due to climate change, and we need to work to protect birds from extinction!
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