Murmuration – A conversation about film and nature

Culture  – Film shorts

The Startling Science of a Starling Murmuration


Definition: Murmuration = a flock of starlings.

Pronunciation: (criticality = crit tic cal ity)



Video of a massive starling flock turning and twisting over a river in Ireland has gone viral, and with good reason. Flocking starlings are one of nature’s most extraordinary sights: Just a few hundred birds moving as one is enough to convey a sense of suspended reality, and the flock filmed above the River Shannon contained thousands.

What makes possible the uncanny coordination of these murmurations, as starling flocks are so beautifully known? Until recently, it was hard to say. Scientists had to wait for the tools of high-powered video analysis and computational modelling. And when these were finally applied to starlings, they revealed patterns known less from biology than cutting-edge physics.

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 neighbour 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 criticality is created and maintained.

It’s easy for a starling to turn when its neighbour turns — but what physiological mechanisms allow it to happen almost simultaneously in two birds separated by hundreds of feet and hundreds of other birds? That remains to be discovered, and the implications extend beyond birds. Starlings may simply be the most visible and beautiful example of a biological criticality that also seems to operate in proteins and neurons, hinting at universal principles yet to be understood..





What do you think of all this?

Do you know of any strange wonders similar to this?

What possible relation could it have to natural behaviours ?



Use one of the words or phrases below to complete each of these sentences

Note that you may have to change the form of a word to complete the sentence correctly.

starling flock, suspended reality, uncanny, cutting-edge , in unison, phase transition, a pattern, to hint

  1. Every time I watch a Hollywood movie I need to ________________ because some of the scenes are not very realistic.
  2. Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter and Square, has an ______________ talent for discovering the next big thing !
  3. It’s my wifes’ birthday next week and I have no clue what to get her, I’m going to call her sister to get ________
  4. My boss has asked me to by a __________________ video conference package! I guess this means no more business trips.
  5. I’m beginning to see a ____________ in these numbers, perhaps we have a solution.
  6. The iPhone and iPad work ____________ with the iCloud.



About Author

Justin Donlon

English Teacher & Content Developer Over 15 years of experience in engaging educational content

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