Murmurations are large flocks of migratory birds, most notably starlings, that zip through the sky at high speeds without ever breaking formation. And those formations can be pretty spectacular. Small wonder they have inspired the design of a striking kinetic structure: the Murmuration Chandelier. It's the creation of designers Richard Harvey and Keivor John, who built it out of 20 stainless steel rings of decreasing diameter, with starling shapes laser-cut into them. In motion, it resembles a spirograph as the rings spin about, at least if you happen to be standing underneath. As the designers told the Creator's Project:
When you look at a murmuration, the birds can seem randomly scattered across the sky — but then in a moment they align to make a beautiful shape and pattern. Like this, the chandelier fleets in and out from seeming disorder to precise spiralling patterns and shapes.
It's fascinating science, too. Back in 2011, two Italian statistical physicists studied the movements of flocks of starlings and concluded the birds' behaviour was coordinated via a few simple rules to avoid collisions. For one thing, any given bird's nearest neighbours tend to be on either side, rather than in front or in back. This might due to simple anatomy: their eyes on are the sides of their heads, so it's easier to track nearby birds when they're to the side.
But cognitively, they can only track six fellow birds at a time. And they tend to follow each other's lead: if one bird turns, others will follow. As blogger GrrlScientist wrote at SciLogs at the time: "Such changes radiate outwards in a wave from the individual to affect the flock. Statistically speaking, every individual bird is interconnected within the same dynamic web of interactions."
Cavagna, A. and Giardina, I. (2011) "The Seventh Starling," Significance 5(2): 62-66.
[Via The Kid Should See This]