Amusing Monday: Starlings swarm like a cyclone

When I lived in Kansas as a child, I would sometimes see flocks of starlings swarming around, each bird moving in concert with the others until they landed in trees, where they would carry on in loud raucus voices, all talking at once.

Yes, I’ve seen starlings, but I’ve never seen anything like the huge mass of swirling birds captured in this video by two young women on the River Shannon in Ireland.

The two, Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith, have established an independent film company they call Islands & Rivers. According to their website, the women “find inspiration from bike rides, being by water, making things and meeting people.”

A flock of starlings is called a murmuration, which is the title to the accompanying music by Nomad Soul.

What makes these birds fly in such a coordinator manner? The question is the subject of some scientific study — not just for an understanding of natural behavior but also for improving the efficiency of human activities.

An article by Peter Miller in National Geographic discusses “swam theory,” covering why animals act as they do and how people are learning from such behavior. Check out the photo gallery that shows other kinds of swarming behavior.

Miller describes a computer graphics expert, Craig Reynolds, who wanted to realistically simulate a flock of birds for movies and video games. He created a program in 1986 that consisted of birdlike objects he called boids. The program required them to follow three simple rules: 1) avoid crowding nearby boids, 2) fly in the average direction of nearby boids, and 3) stay close to nearby boids.

“The result, when set in motion on a computer screen, was a convincing simulation of flocking, including lifelike and unpredictable movements,” Miller wrote.

For the history of this mathematical discovery, see the online article called “Boids,” written Reynolds himself, who describes the program’s first commercial use in the 1992 film “Batman Returns.”

Thanks to Chuck Hower of South Kitsap for sending me the starling video.

I don’t know if this next video has anything to do with flocking or swarm theory, but it’s an impressive display of duck behavior.

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