From the June 2018 issue

A murmuration of starlings

Emergence and the unity of science.
By | Published: June 27, 2018 | Last updated on May 18, 2023

The starling seems an unexceptional bird, but gather thousands together into a murmuration (named for the sound of a multitude of rapidly beating wings) and they become the grandest show in the sky. A murmuration in flight looks a bit like an amoeba on steroids as it morphs through a never-ending sequence of complex shapes. (Type “murmuration” into a web browser and play a video. Now. Really!)

Why do starlings do what they do? Ancient Romans believed that starlings foretold the will of the gods. The word auspicious comes from the Latin auspicium, or “divination by observing the flight of birds.” In the 1930s, ornithologist Edmund Selous asserted that starlings are telepathic. Even today, biologist Rupert Sheldrake attributes starling behavior to his hypothetical “morphic resonances.”

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