From late October through to March, many of us in the UK and across Europe will see an amazing phenomenon. As twilight falls, thousands of starling birds flock together and fly in large groups called ‘murmurations’. The flock constantly remoulds its overall shape and produces rippling patterns as birds change direction in unison. It is one of the most incredible displays of animal behaviour in the natural world. Check out videos of starling murmurations and watch how they transform the evening sky into living, abstract art. Researchers are still unsure exactly why starlings have this instinct; some think that it deters predators, such as sparrowhawks and falcons, and others suggest that it is an opportunity for the birds to communicate information about good places to find food.
This enchanting air show raises an obvious question: How do thousands of birds fly so close together at speeds of almost 50 miles per hour, constantly changing direction, without crashing into each other? Recent studies in Italy have helped us begin to understand, by photographing flocks from different angles and mapping the positions of individual birds in a computer program. It turns out that each bird in the flock keeps an eye on the seven birds closest to it and copies what they do. So, if one of its neighbours moves, then it moves! This means that one small change in the movement of one bird can cause every other bird around it to move in turn. The starlings respond to the changes in their neighbours in less than 100 milliseconds. Starlings in flight are compared to jet fighter pilots, who position their planes very close to each other and copy the precise movements of their nearest neighbour However, starlings react around thirteen times faster than a human! This remarkable instinct has not developed through millions of years of unguided steps of evolution, but, rather, it shows the design flair of our Creator, who has programmed this behaviour into its DNA.
Scientists are drawing inspiration from what these starlings can do and are looking into potential applications of the idea. For example, engineers and tech developers could, potentially, use swarm robotics in micro-drones for use by the military, or for rescue missions. As we learn more about how God’s creation glorifies Him, let us praise Him for His wisdom and power.
https://thejohn1010project.com/video/super-starlings/ (accessed 27/10/2023)
https://animals.howstuffworks.com/birds/starling-murmurations.htm (accessed 27/10/2023)
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