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Science tries to explain the miracle of murmuration

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Despite being an invader in the North American ecosystem, the starlings that create the almost magical murmurations we so admire are thing of beauty to the wider public and a subject of fascination to scientists, who are still trying to figure out how so many animals manage to engage in the massive sky dances that put even the most coordinated flashmob to shame.

The catalyst for these wondrous flight patterns is usually a hawk startling the flock, yet puzzling out how such a large number of birds is able to respond so seemingly in sync is too hard a task for observation alone, so scientists are turning to computation modeling to solve the mystery.

Imagine a game of telephone: one person passes a message along to the next person, who repeats it to another, and so on. For humans, the telephone message loses information very quickly—that’s what makes the game fun. The first finding, by [the team of Giorgio Parisi of the University of Rome], suggests that very little information is lost in a starling flock. The second finding, by Young’s team, suggests that starlings “play telephone” with their seven nearest neighbors. Somehow they are able to process messages from those seven neighbors all at once, and this is a part of their method for achieving scale-free correlation.

Scientists admit they’re still stumped as to how communication happens so quickly but the rest of us can still just sit in awe.

Full story at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Animal mysteries.

Photo credit: Fotolia

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