Scott Heppell / AP
A flock of starlings is seen as the sun sets above Gretna, Scotland on Nov. 4, 2011.
Have you ever watched the way a flock of starlings move? It can be hypnotic.
To watch the uncanny synchronization of a starling flock in flight is to wonder if the birds aren’t actually a single entity, governed by something beyond the usual rules of biology. New research suggests that’s true.
Mathematical analysis of flock dynamics show how each starling’s movement is influenced by every other starling, and vice versa. It doesn’t matter how large a flock is, or if two birds are on opposite sides. It’s as if every individual is connected to the same network.
That phenomenon is known as scale-free correlation, and transcends biology. The closest fit to equations describing starling flock patterns come from the literature of “criticality,” of crystal formation and avalanches — systems poised on the brink, capable of near-instantaneous transformation. Read more...
Video: See Sophie Windsor Clive's video of starling murmuration.