When a seemingly-delicate, shimmering flock of starlings moves like a cloud of living smoke in the sky, it’s called a murmuration. The video above, filmed in in Utrecht, The Netherlands by Alpaca Media, is a beautiful example of how thousands of birds can somehow communicate their movements almost instantaneously. From the Mother Nature Network:
Often the behavior is sparked by the presence of a predator like a hawk or peregrine falcon, and the flock’s movement is based on evasive maneuvers. There is safety in numbers, so the individual starlings do not scatter, but rather are able to move as an intelligent cloud, feinting away from a diving raptor, thousands of birds changing direction almost simultaneously. The question that has had scientists stumped is how a bird, tens or hundreds of birds away from those nearest danger, sense the shift and move in unison?
The secret lies in the same systems that apply to anything on the cusp of a shift, like snow before an avalanche, where the velocity of one bird affects the velocity of the rest… “The change in the behavioral state of one animal affects and is affected by that of all other animals in the group, no matter how large the group is. Scale-free correlations provide each animal with an effective perception range much larger than the direct interindividual interaction range, thus enhancing global response to perturbations.”