The wildest moment

This morning we were visited by thousands of starlings, whirring in a murmuration of wings and twittering enough to raise quite a din. I was wrapped in a warm robe and standing on the back porch because my vegetable garden patch is finally free of snow, and I just wanted to remind myself that the earth lies waiting (and spring will indeed arrive). I heard the flocks arriving, not an uncommon occurrence this time of year, but had never observed such a huge group in my yard and treeline before. And they came so close! Spinning past me at eye level, five feet away.

I felt almost as if I were among them, and for the first time could see how individual birds suddenly reverse themselves–pivoting on a pinion-tip–followed by some in the group while others swooped away on a different arc. There seemed to be flocks within the general flock, each with its own pattern of loop or zig-zag, rushing level or stopping briefly on the muddy grass, some settling, some leaping, their flight paths intersecting…others taking a second or two to hover in the air as if deciding which invisible line to pursue.

The noise floored me. I felt my whole body respond, eyes wide, heart racing: awe, or elation, not fear. I noticed the neighbors’ cat, who often spends hours on my sunny back porch, had backed himself into a corner and was sitting alert but a bit cowed by the loud, wild activity of the birds.

Here’s a short article from Wired that includes a video and some links to research on the physics and dynamics of starling flocks, including the delightful theory of “critical transitions” which smacks of metaphorical possibilities I think I must explore in a poem someday soon.

I’ve looked for videos of starling murmurations, and there are many–but most of them show the flocks from a distance and leave off the noise of the birds, substituting new age music (see below). For me, part of the experience is aural. Too bad I did not have the means to capture today’s wildest moment; that must be left to the imagination.

9 comments on “The wildest moment

  1. Marilyn Hazelton says:

    How wonderful! Your visitation with the starlings . . . I have some, slight, ability to imagine how profound that was. Visiting Erie several years ago, my brother and I went to Presque Island were asked near the Perry Monument if we knew where the starlings could be seen. We found a field where a young man was playing starling song on his car stereo and taking notes as starlings flew back and forth. He directed us to a part of misery bay where there are small islands that the starlings rise from and descend to. We gathered with a group of Mennonites and their “English” driver. One of the men loaned us his binoculars as the women stared at us with suspicion. Later we were joined by two women who had kayaked directly under the starlings as they swarmed. I did not look at the women Mennonites as one of the kayakers lit a cigarette. Whatever our status, it was a lovely little group that went their and our separate ways as darkness fell.


    • Thank you for your thoughtful & poetic response!

      I should add that later in the day–as evening began to descend–a few smaller flocks returned to do the same flight-dance on a smaller scale. And they were mixed flocks that time–included some grackles and quite a few red-winged blackbirds!

      Another form of diversity.


  2. KM Huber says:

    Both videos as well as the Wired article are amazing! And that word, murmuration, what lilt it has. Looking forward to your poem.


  3. Rachel Bowman says:

    I felt it! I felt the murmuration through your writing.


  4. moishmoish says:



  5. I should add that later that day, another though slightly smaller murmuration event occurred–with a mixed flock that included redwing blackbirds!


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