Starling Swarm

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We all stood still staring into the sky.

The tennis game came to a halt, we were transfixed.

“What is that?” said the tall blonde, her tennis racket lax in one hand and the other shading her eyes from the sun so she could see better

I knew it was birds, but it wasn’t geese and it wasn’t ducks.

The hundreds of small birds, moving as one, looked like a large flat ribbon blowing in an inconsistent wind.

They were a river of birds waterfalling across unseen skyboulders and cliffs, their altitude never descending, the bird ribbon just fluttering farther.

It was quite beautiful and mesmerizing.

“Are those birds,” said my tennis opponent.

We watched until we could not see their swarm against the fall sky.

I didn’t think about them until I crawled into bed and Silent Bob’s leg draped across me as he curled around me.

He’s used to me getting up all times of the night.

With the glow from my computer the only one in my dark house, it took me a while to find the right search terms for Google.

They were a starling flock.

And as a flock they were doing physics.

The flock reacts as a single entity, their flight maneuvers carefully synchronized. Application of mathematical modeling to their flight dynamics has revealed that every starling movement is affected by every other starling and vice versa.

No matter the size of the flock.

Or if two birds are on opposite sides.

It’s as if every individual is connected to some giant network.

It’s a phenomenon known as scale-free correlation. Scary term that is the scientists way of economizing on words and yet still describing. Scale free refers to the number of birds required to produce the phenomenon (there is none) and correlation means, well they are all correlated.

Scale free correlation is a term that usually has nothing to do with biology. It’s more often investigated when scientists try to understand how avalanches start or crystals form.

It’s the idea that a system can get to a critical point, and once poised on the brink, is then capable of almost instantaneous transformation.

So… these hundreds of starlings, somehow linked to every other starling,  ribbon fluttering across the sky in unison, were constantly over and over and instantly, transforming into the new version of the flying flock, as they undulated across the sky.

Cool as all get out.

Beautiful as anything I could ever imagine.

Don’t you just love knowing about scale-free correlation and how starlings swarm?

I do wonder why they do it.

Guess I’ll ask God when I get to Him.

He’s liable to say just because He liked watching them and knew I would too.

Cool as all get out.

starling_movementsIf you’d like to know more, start here.


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