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A giant bird shape briefly forms in a murmuration

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Murmurations—swarms of swirling, swooping, shimmering starlings at dusk—are a favorite video topic on TKSST. But how often do these mesmerizing patterns reveal a larger shape? …like the shape of a giant bird?

Ireland-based photographer James Crombie and his friend Colin Hogg were capturing footage of the swarming starlings over Lough Ennell—one of dozens of image-hunting trips they’d taken within a few months—when a larger shape appeared for just a brief moment.

Crombie captured the photo. Hogg filmed the video:

“We were mapping where they roost so we could find out exactly where they settle for a few nights and then set up positions for filming them… We were delighted when we captured a unique shape in the sky after many weeks of boring shots. Literally the sky was alive.”


More about the phenomenon from Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Ireland’s National Public Service Media:

To understand what the starlings are doing, we begin back in 1987 when the pioneering computer scientist Craig Reynolds created a simulation of a flock of birds. These “boids”, as Reynolds called his computer-generated creatures, followed only three simple rules to create their different patterns of movement: nearby birds would move further apart, birds would align their direction and speed, and more distant birds would move closer…

From this starting point an entire field of animal movement modelling emerged. Matching these models to reality was spectacularly achieved in 2008 by a group in Italy who were able to film starling murmurations around the rail station in Rome, reconstruct their positions in 3D, and show the rules that were being used. What they found was that starlings sought to match the direction and speed of the nearest seven or so neighbours, rather than responding to the movements of all of the nearby birds around them.

Imagine a game of telephone while flying. But, as the photograph proves, the birds don’t need to be in motion for their magic to come through. A group of students recreated the moment for an art class project, too:

Watch more murmurations, birds, swarms, and videos about photography next, including: Henry Fox Talbot, the First Photographs, and the Pioneers of Photography.

h/t Kottke.

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