Avian Expert Articles

Starling Murmurations: A Sight to Behold

Starling Murmuration
Airwolfhound, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The visual beauty of nature always seems to capture our imagination in unexpected ways. Whether that might be the stunning colors and natural attributes of a bird in your backyard (cardinals, jays, hummingbirds, and buntings to name a few), the displays of affection by creatures, or even the beautiful flight of exotic birds in exotic locales, nature never ceases to draw a gasp when it runs into your field of vision.

One of the more amazing displays of nature and physics are the murmuration clouds of starlings. If you’ve seen one, then you already understand the awe of the display as hundreds of birds navigate with precision to fly in concert with each other.

Recently, a massive gathering of starlings delighted crowds in San Rafael, CA. It is said that thousands upon thousands of the European Starlings have gathered in locations and have commenced to provide artistic displays of their murmuration phenomenon. It is reported that the birds begin their show like clockwork at around 4:30 pm – 5:00 pm. They mesmerize gathering crowds as they arrive to take in the sight. The birds have done this for several weeks. Watchers have been incredibly touched and say that the “show” appears to be undertaken by “a million” birds.

Murmurations Explained

What are murmurations? It is thought that the starlings undertake this procedure as means to keep warm in colder climes. It is also thought that it is a defensive maneuver that is evolutionarily designed to thwart the precision of predators making it nearly impossible to zero in on any one bird in the swarm. There are amazing physics involved in this procedure. (If you have seen this particular display in San Rafael, please leave a comment, or better, a photo.) Dusk in San Rafael will never look the same for the onlookers who took time to watch this new display of their current Starling residents once the birds move on, as they usually do.

The Art of Murmurations

Photographer Søren Solkær, who who hails from Denmark, is known for his photography of the famous and popular. He has changed his focus to the capture of starling murmurations. And his photos are incredible. His newfound interest over the last few years have led him to capture some of the most important views of murmurations in an artistic manner. He states, “starlings move as one unified organism…”, which poetically describes the visual treat the birds supply.

Solkær began a project of photographing starling murmurations back in 2017, calling his project Black Sun. With a group of photographs, many of them ethereal and inspiring in their viewing, he has created beautiful and unforgettable scenes of unique murmurations. He has referred to these individual scenes as “…an ink drawing or a calligraphic brush stroke…” A look at the many photographs in his growing collection for Black Sun will underscore just what he means by his assessment of the natural display. You can look at the photographs of his developing Black Sun project here. We have hope that the photographs for Black Sun will eventually make their way into a published book.

Hopefully you have already witnessed the grace of a murmuration, which means a close collection of starlings in one place. If not, I sincerely hope you are able to in your lifetime. They are as wonderful to behold as the clear night sky, and a colorful display of auroras.

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