Murmuration of Starlings

Page Content

Starlings are small to medium sized song birds that are classified within the Passerine suborder, in the family ‘Sturnidea’.

Close to 120 species of starlings and myna birds are included in this family. They are strong, gregarious and relatively aggressive. They are considered to be invasive in some places. Native to Europe, Asia and Africa, excluding the deserts, one can find them now practically worldwide.

The common starling population, which is located in northeastern Europe and northwest Asia, migrates to the south and the west in winter reaching as far as the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa.

 Common Starling
Common Starling known also as European Starling – Passeriformes>Passeri>Sturnidae>

Murmuration at Sunset

A starling murmuration dance at twilight is a spectacular and fascinating phenomenon of collective behavior. The videos below were taken over the northern Negev in Israel and show a murmuration of starlings that migrated for the winter from the Ukraine.

Music “Veloma” (by Fabrizio Paterlini) at http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Fabrizio_Paterlini/Viandanze_EP

Murmurations have triggered scientists from different fields of biology, physics, mathematics and engineering to conduct interdisciplinary studies in order to reveal the mechanism that lies behind it. Once understood, it is believed the rules of collective movement could be used, for example, in the design of coordinated motion of advanced robots.

Collective Movement – Order Within the Chaos

Indeed, the new methods and tools for research have allowed science to make some progress and much data has been collected enabling researchers to create and analyze collective motion models.

Results based on recording of starling murmurations and an analysis on a multi-dimensional level suggest that the individual bird adjusts its movement based on the topographical position and direction of an average of six to seven birds around it.

Chaos within the Order

The current belief suggests that collective behavior in starling murmurations is a tool for scaring potential predators.

It has been proposed, also, that joining the group and increasing its size actually minimizes the chance of the individual to be hunted. The constant movement of the individual, under this approach is towards the center, distancing itself from the edges of the group where the danger is bigger.

Another possibility could be that starlings, being social birds, are actually performing this twilight gathering dance, seen from a distance, to attract those who were scattered at various feeding areas and to gather them to the sleeping location.

Dance of Starlings – Improvisation

Still, the main two questions remain to be answered scientifically: How this collective movement occurs? And why this collective behavior occurs?