07 Nov A murmuration of starlings
Two women in a canoe on Ireland’s River Shannon stumble across one of nature’s greatest phenomena: a murmuration of starlings.
H/T to The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal who writes:
The starlings coordinated movements do not seem possible, but then there they are doing it. Scientists have been similarly fascinated by starling movement. Those synchronized dips and waves seem to hold secrets about perception and group dynamics. Last year, Italian theoretical physicist Giorgio Parisi took on the challenge of explaining the murmuration. What he found, as ably explained by my old Wired colleague Brandon Keim, is that the math equations that best describe starling movement are borrowed “from the literature of ‘criticality,’ of crystal formation and avalanches — systems poised on the brink, capable of near-instantaneous transformation.” They call it “scale-free correlation,” and it means that no matter how big the flock, “If any one bird turned and changed speed, so would all the others.”
It’s a beautiful phenomenon to behold. And neither biologists nor anyone else can yet explain how starlings seem to process information and act on it so quickly. It’s precisely the lack of lag between the birds’ movements that make the flocks so astonishing. Having imported a theoretical physicist to model the flock movement, perhaps a computer scientist would be the right choice to describe the individual birds’ behavior.