A lot of times when working with nature, what you manage to get on film is a happy accident. So it was for Neels Castillon, just a few months ago. While he and his film crew were waiting to shoot an outdoor commercial in Marseille, France, just before sunset, they happened to witness a massive flock of birds performing a “ballet.” Luckily, they began to roll tape. Said Castillon on Vimeo, where he first posted his video, “we just forgot our job and started this little piece of poetry.”
The European starlings in Castillon’s footage, which you can see below, are engaging in a phenomenon called a murmuration. This collective behavior is typically seen at dusk throughout Europe, between November and February. Each evening during those months, the birds execute breathtaking aerial maneuvers before choosing a place to roost for the night.
No one knows why starlings fly in this way. What is known is that a murmuration requires strong spatial coherence and synchronization. An article about the behavior in Wired Magazine stated, “Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition. At the individual level, the rules guiding this are relatively simple. When a neighbor moves, so do you. Depending on the flock’s size and speed and its members’ flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. What’s complicated, or at least unknown, is how criticallity is created and maintained.”
Scientists around the globe are currently using computer simulations and physical data to try to demystify murmurations. For now, however, just enjoy the performance of this bird ballet that—in words from Wired Magazine—“hints at universal principles yet to be understood.”
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,