An Artist's Quest

Impossible, harmonious dance

I have been rewarded in my wanderings several winter afternoons of late and was given the opportunity to observe an amazing phenomenon, the starling swarm.  The starlings fill the sky in a wild impossible harmonious dance, undulating in and out with spectacular speed and fluidity.  If you haven’t seen it (or even if you have), it is well worth checking out the next two links; the first is very short, 36 seconds, and shows starlings swarming at dusk then all at once settling in to roost together in the distant silhouette of trees (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hw27WQzd5bM) The second is longer and gives a wonderful explanation of the habitat and behavior of the starlings (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH-groCeKbE).  I began digging around the Internet about starlings and found out that they are native to most of temperate Europe and western Asia, they can be seen on their migration patterns in Iberia and north Africa.  The starling was introduced to Australia, New Zealand, and North and South America.  That pretty much covers most of the globe.

While wandering the internet and wondering about starlings I stumbled on Klara Hobza’s very amusing website (http://starlingmigration.info/menu/history/) which I quote here.  The following story was recounted on several websites but Klara has a most unique response: “In 1890, Eugene Schieffelin and the Acclimation Society of North America decided to bring all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to the USA from Britain. Among them were 60 European Starlings, because Shakespeare had mentioned them in Henry IV: “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer’…” (Part I, Act 1, Scene 3). The birds were released in New York City’s Central Park, and their first nest was found on the roof of the American Museum of Natural History. Since then, the European Starling has spread very successfully in North America, and today we count over 200 million. Note that there are only 300 million starlings worldwide, and in Europe their population is on the decline. Many regard the European Starlings as pests for destroying crops and stealing native species’ nesting cavities. They are colonial breeders that are considered aggressive and noisy–an invasive species. As a European, I feel rather embarrassed about the invasion and nuisance the European Starling is causing in North America. I decided to capture 60 Starlings in Central Park, send them back to England, and release them in Buckingham Palace Park.”

I dug in a bit to how the starlings manage to fly so close and fast without hitting each other, in fact there are several research studies going on about swarm behavior and how to use this animal ability in robots.  I’ll keep searching and thinking about starlings, and community, about flight and roosting, about staying connected to the flock for this Fridays art and written response.  Let me know what you think.

The photo above is from (http://reference.findtarget.com/search/Sort%20sol%20%28bird%20flock%29/) I can’t find the name of the photographer on the site, it was taken in Denmark.  Starlings are doing their dance all over the world!

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