Knowledge Starling Flight Group

Published on March 14th, 2012 | by James Johnson


Starlings Act Like Magnets To Achieve Aerial Coordination

Starling Flight Group

If you have ever watched videos or witnessed hundreds and even thousands of starlings flying next to one another you’ve probably wondered how they can maintain their closeness in what appears to be effortless flight. Now researchers believe they have found the answer. According to a new study the flight of starlings occurs because they behave mathematically like metals that have become magnetized.

According to physicist Irene Giardina of the University of Rome:

“They are an example of a system where collective phenomena emerge from short-range interactions. This is the kind of phenomenon that statistical physicists are used to dealing with.”

The study is published in the March 13 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To gather information about the birds a team of researchers in 2010 used multiple video cameras and software that tracks the trajectory of individual birds to analyze flock dynamics on a second-by-second basis. The program then allowed the researcher team to examine the flocks in purely mathematical terms. In one murmuration of 1,246 starlings researchers for example could examine the velocities of each bird.

For this new study however scientists were more concerned with the orientation of each bird and therefore measured change in direction. Researchers examined how one bird changing direction affected other birds and their movements.

What researchers discovered was that a change in orientation by one bird only caused its seven closest neighbors to alter their flight patterns. Regardless of flock density that number did not change.

Because only seven neighbors are affected it made the equations used “topological” instead of critical in nature.

It is the birds general affect on seven neighbors that leads to magnetic properties. In the physics of magnetism the way an electron spins causes its neighbors to align, allowing metals to become magnetized.

In the meantime researchers are trying to determine why the phenomenon occurs, the current research team believed starling flocks are optimized to evade predators while the “midge” bird uses flight for mating purposes.

Here’s a video showing the gigantic mass of starlings that can occur:




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About the Author

James is a new media professional with more than half a decade worth of experience in the online writing space. He currently serves as the Associate Editor of and the Editor-in-Chief of He also serves as a resident writer for Splash Press Media. In his spare time James consults businesses regarding SEO and Content Development.

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