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article imageVideo: Israelis treated to rare synchronized starling display

By Greta McClain     Jan 29, 2013 in Environment
Netivot - In what could be a scene right out of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds", thousands of starlings treated Israeli bird watchers to an incredible, yet rare, spectacle of synchronized aerial acrobatics.

The synchronized flying known as "murmuration" occurs when upwards of a thousand or more starlings fly en masse in choreographed moves. The event typically occurs at dusk.
On Monday, scientists and amateur bird watchers gathered in a field near Netivot, a town approximately eight miles east of Gaza, to watch the rare phenomenon. Professor Yossi Leshem, director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Tel Aviv University, was one of the scientist present to watch the amazing event. He told Haaretz:
"After spending all day in the fields, the starlings gather for about 20 minutes of amazing aerial antics."
Leshem went on to explain that the movements are a way to communicate the location of food sources to other starling, as well as a defense mechanism against hawks and other birds of prey, saying:
"The second one is if a hawk is coming to catch one of the starlings, if it (the bird) is by itself it has a problem, but if they are (part of) a big flock they can open and close and move dramatically and then the hawk cannot catch them, and this is a protection against the hawks."
He calls the behavior "wisdom", saying if each bird were left on their own, they would be devoured as prey. However, when they come together and act in unison, they protect each other. He continues by explaining:
"In a split second, the flock that was a flying ball only a moment before changes direction and the burst of wind flips the raptor over on its back."
In the 1990's, it was not unusual for starling to fly to Israel from Russia and eastern Europe during the winter. However, they have rarely been seen even in much smaller numbers for the past twenty years. Scientists cannot explain their absence or sudden return.
Those who witnessed the spectacle are simply happy that the birds have returned, treating spectators to an amazing display that typically lasts approximately 20 minutes.
More about Starlings, Birds, murmuration, Israel, bird watching
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