News / Middle East

    Birds Create Stunning Formations in Skies Over Israel

    Birds Create Stunning Formations in Skies Over Israeli
    X
    January 15, 2016 10:44 PM
    Swarms of European Starlings captivated onlookers with spectacular formations over the skies of Israel recently, with stunning moves that could rival any aerobatics team. VOA's Julie Taboh has more on this ubiquitous, graceful and adaptive bird.

    Arriving like dark clouds, thousands of European starlings swoop and soar through the skies of Israel each winter, with stunning moves that could rival any aerobatics team.

    The birds, migrating from Russia and eastern Europe, are airborne ballerinas — forming shapes like a falling leaf, a rising dove, a giant whale swimming across the sky — as they prepare to roost for the night.

    Scientists are not exactly sure how they stay in perfect formation, but bird expert Zachary Slavin with the National Audubon Society says it could be as simple as keeping an eye on their nearest neighbors.

    "So just like a school of fish, there is not a leader of the flock," he said, "but rather each individual bird is watching the birds nearest to it, keeping a set distance from them, and so they are all traveling together and reacting together."

    European Starling in Tollington, Connecticut, 2015. (Courtesy of Enola Wagner)
    European Starling in Tollington, Connecticut, 2015. (Courtesy of Enola Wagner)

    "Part of what makes them move so fluidly and in such tight groups is their really fast reaction time," he added, "so they can react really quickly to the movement of the birds around them, and when all of them do that, the message moves through the flock really quickly."

    Benefits of flocks

    According to Slavin, the large flocks occur throughout the fall and winter, starting when starlings finish breeding in the late summer and continuing through their migration until they return to their breeding grounds in the late winter and early spring.

    Being in a large flock helps them to find and exploit food sources that can be scarce in the winter, he says.

    "Many pairs of eyes means better chances of finding food sources that they can share with the other members of their flock,” Slavin said. “Their large numbers allow them to outcompete other animals that may be vying for the same food source."

    A flock also provides protection.

    "When they're under attack from a predator like a falcon or a hawk, flying in these huge flocks with a really unpredictable motion and lots of individual birds makes it really hard for a predator to track individuals and catch individual birds," he said.

    Where flocking occurs

    While flocks of this size are not very common, Slavin says they do occur throughout the starlings' wintering and migration ranges, which stretch from northern Africa across southern Europe and western Asia.

    FILE - A flock of starlings fly over an agricultural field near the southern Israeli city of Netivot, Feb. 12, 2014.
    FILE - A flock of starlings fly over an agricultural field near the southern Israeli city of Netivot, Feb. 12, 2014.

    They can also occur in places where they have been introduced, including in the United States.

    About 60 to 100 of the iridescent black birds were released in New York's Central Park in the late 1800s as part of an effort by a group that wanted North America to have all the birds mentioned in William Shakespeare's plays.

    In Act 1, Scene III of Henry IV Part I, Hotspur fantasizes about teaching a starling to say "Mortimer" — one of the king's enemies. "Nay, I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion."

    Not just the king is angry

    Since starlings thrive in a variety of habitats, their numbers in the United States have grown to between 100 million and 200 million today.

    That's part of their success, says Slavin, but also the reason they are now considered a menace to native bird species.

    "One of the challenges has been that they are cavity nesters so they need a natural cavity, natural hole in the tree or a nest box to raise their young in," he said.

    "They are outcompeting a lot of our native species, including things like chickadees and bluebirds and woodpeckers, for these cavities because they are larger and they more aggressive and they will actually remove those birds from cavities that they are trying to claim," Slavin said.

    But it's easy to overlook that kind of behavior when flocks of starlings take to the sky in their mesmerizing dance.

    • Roadside Starling Flock, Idaho, 2012. (Courtesy of Wallace Keck)
    • European Starling in Tollington, Connecticut, 2015. (Courtesy of Enola Wagner)
    • European Starlings in Washington, 2013. (Courtesy of Christine Haines)
    • Starlings fly in the sky of Rome at sunset on Jan. 27, 2015.
    • European Starlings in 2012. (Courtesy of Germaine and Dave Bragonier)
    • European Starlings in Benton, Pennsylvania, 2015. (Courtesy of Kevin Hess Benton)
    • European Starling, 2015 (Courtesy of Sandra Wilbur)
    • Migrating starlings fly in formation across the sky near the southern Israeli town of Rahat, Feb. 2, 2015.
    • Starlings perform their traditional dance before landing to sleep near the southern Israeli village of Tidhar, in the northern Negev desert, Jan. 14, 2016.
    • European Starlings, Illinois, 2012. (Courtesy of Lynne Marsho)
    • FILE - A flock of starlings fly over an agricultural field near the southern Israeli city of Netivot, Feb. 12, 2014.
    • A large flock of starlings fly illuminated by the setting sun near Bacau, north eastern Romania, Dec. 10, 2013.
    • European Starling in New York, 2012. (Courtesy of Steve Fisher)
    • A flock of starlings fly over an agricultural field near the southern Israeli city of Netivot, Feb. 12, 2014.

    You May Like

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora