Wonder Friends already know that birds of a feather flock together. But what do you call that flock when the birds of a feather are starlings? Give up? It’s called a murmuration.

Have you ever seen a murmuration? If you have, you would know it. Seeing hundreds — even thousands — of starlings flying together in a whirling, ever-changing pattern is a phenomenon of nature that amazes and delights those lucky enough to witness it.

Luckily, a few murmurations have been caught on video. You can search online for “murmuration” videos to see for yourself how incredible these large flocks of birds can be.

As they fly, the starlings in a murmuration seem to be connected together. They twist and turn and change direction at a moment’s notice. How do hundreds or even thousands of birds coordinate such complicated movement while in flight?

Do the birds plan out and practice their flying routines in advance? That’s what we humans would have to do if we were to look that graceful. However, starlings don’t plan or practice their flight patterns.

For years, scientists have WONDERed about murmurations. Recently, they have started to use cameras and computers to understand the mystery of murmurations.

Scientists have been surprised to learn that the flying patterns of murmurations have more in common with physics than biology. Much remains unknown about murmurations. However, scientists now believe they may be able to describe murmurations using the principles of physics.

Scientists believe murmurations are similar to other systems, such as crystals forming, avalanches, metals becoming magnetized and liquids turning to gases. These systems are “on the edge,” which means they’re ready to be completely transformed in an instant.

Like the elements of these other systems, each starling in a murmuration is connected to every other starling. As shown in today’s video, when a murmuration turns in unison, scientists believe it’s like a phase transition.

It’s easy to understand how one starling knows to turn when its neighbor turns, since they’re close together and can see each other. What scientists still don’t understand, though, is how hundreds or thousands of starlings seem to know when to turn simultaneously, when birds at opposite ends of the flock are separated by space and hundreds or thousands of other birds.

Regardless of the size of the murmuration, all the birds seem to be connected to the same network. This phenomenon puzzles scientists, because it goes beyond what we know from biology about how animals behave. The mystery of the murmuration is a fascinating example of a natural phenomenon that hides secrets about the world that scientists have still yet to uncover!

34 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (22 votes, avg. 4.41 out of 5)
    • Thanks for joining us on our Wonder adventure today, Blakeleigh! We Wonder if you have ever seen a murmuration? :)

      • See them often right in the sky above and behind our house, which is backed by woods. So beautiful; But if you know anything about Starlings THAT is just how you want to see them; At a distance. If they come too close the sheer number of them creates a LOT of dirt!
        I do love watching a murmuration though.

        • Thanks, so much for your comment, Julia! We learned something new today. Steer clear of starlings if you don’t want to get dirty! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

  1. I really liked today’s wonder! I have never seen starlings before, at least not in real life. The video was so cool. They are very graceful when they fly like that. I learned a lot! Thank you for today’s wonder! :) ;)

    • Hi there, Berkleigh! You did a WONDERful job of describing what you learned and saw from today’s Wonder! HOORAY for you! :)

  2. Dear wonderopolis,

    I have a wonder do dolphins ever sleep.

    And the app is loading very slow because I was trying to look at today’s wonder.

    That’s realy cool how the birds are all connected to each other. :)


    • Hi there, Ayden! We’re so glad you’re WONDERing with us, and thanks for sharing your very own Wonder, too! We appreciate your concern about the app– we are working on making it better for all our Wonder Friends! We hope it will be better soon! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

  3. I loved todays wonder because I actually have seen a murmuration before when I went on vacation to, I forget where, but we sat there and watched it for half an hour. It was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about tattletales or people nervous… or nerves… ewwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi there, Macey, thanks for WONDERing with us today! We bet it was very cool to see a murmuration while you were vacationing– thanks for telling us all about it! We can’t wait to find out what the next Wonder will be… we think you’re on to something! :)

  4. Wonderopolis I still do not understand how they are able to know when the other birds are going to turn, in my opinion I think that’s pretty cool!!!!

    • WOW, what a sight to see, Wonder Friend Pat! It must be a very cool, and organized, thing to watch! We are so glad you shared your comment with us! :)

  5. Do you know if schools of fish that appear to move together have a name to describe it like murmuration does for starlings? And can the term be used for other birds that fly like this in unison?

    • WOW, that’s an awesome question, Louise! We love the connection you made between schools of fish and murmurations! NICE WORK! We hope you’ll do some WONDERful research of your own about this cool formation– we bet the library is a great place to start! Please let us know what you find! We’re excited to Wonder with you! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend K Hobbs! Thank you for telling us how much you enjoyed our Wonder in flight! We hope to see you again soon! :)

    • Thanks for letting us know what you thought of the video, Morgan! We glad you spent time WONDERing with us today! :)

    • Hi, Robin. Thanks for your feedback. The quiz for this Wonder of the Day appears to have the correct answers programmed in, so we’re unsure which questions you’re meaning. Could you email hello@wonderopolis.org with more information? Thank you, Wonder Friend! :)

  6. Whilst I am not about to argue with scientists about this, I will argue with the article. The starlings do NOT turn or move simultaneously. The follow the movement of the starling in front. If they moved simultaneously the formations would not move in a snake like pattern. So, to me there seems to be a conscious decision to follow.

    • Hello, Mark Gillett! Thanks for commenting on this WONDER. They do follow the starlings around them and scientists are still confused about how they know to follow the birds far away on the other side, especially since it seams to happen almost simultaneously. This would be a great topic to research more at your library. Always keep WONDERing! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a murmuration?
  • How do starlings create the patterns their flocks make in the sky?
  • What field of science helps to describe a murmuration?

Wonder Gallery

MurmurationVimeo Video

Try It Out

Did today’s Wonder of the Day take you to new heights? We hope so! Keep soaring with a friend or family member as you check out one or more of the following activities:

  • Even if birds don’t take part in a murmuration, they might flock together in smaller groups. WONDER why? Check it out! Do Birds of a Feather Flock Together?, a previous Wonder of the Day, explains why! Read through it with a friend or family member and enjoy learning more about groups of birds.
  • Have you ever seen a murmuration in real life? If not, don’t worry. They’re fairly rare. Don’t worry, though. Some people have managed to capture some murmurations on video. Enjoy A Bird Ballet and marvel at the sight of a magnificent murmuration!
  • Up for a challenge? Ready to give flight to your imagination? Now that you know what a murmuration is…and how little modern scientists understand them, we want to know what you think goes on between the thousands of starlings in flight. How do they keep from bumping into one another? Do they all know each other’s names? Do they talk to each other in flight? Or can they communicate with their thoughts? Do the starlings decide in advance what patterns they will form? Or do they make it up as they go along? Answer these questions as creatively as you can by writing a short story about a murmuration from a single starling’s point of view. Tell your readers who you are and where you live. Describe what it’s like to fly with thousands of other starlings that look just like you. When you’re finished, share your story with your Wonder Friends by posting it on Facebook. We can’t wait to read what you write!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Department of Crane-Land Security activity, children learn how to protect cranes in the wild as they migrate.

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