video: surreal bird formation

Birdsssssformmm This video of a lovely and strange bird formation is quite amazing.
Amazing bird formation (Yahoo!, thanks Brad Keech!)


  1. That was freaky! Probably starlings. Flocks of up to 1,000,000 have been reported. being close to a big flock in flight can be a frightening experience.

  2. yeah, i’ve heard of starlings doing that.
    i want that as a screen saver. i wuz hyp-no-tized!

  3. I was thinking that any moment they would form a giant mallet and smash the camera man.

    Too many cartoons?

  4. Being close to a big flock in flight can be a frightening experience.

    Only if you forgot your umbrella…

  5. Genuinely awe inspiring. I’ve seen them just like that, over the seafront at Brighton in the evening. It’s actually quite scary.

    Ok – so it’s emergent behaviour, and you can get similar effects in an animation program with quite simple rules. But – evolution-wise… why? What purpose does it serve?

  6. In colonial America, flocks of Passenger Pigeons that size and much bigger were a not-rare event. It must have been AMAZING.

  7. @9: Evolution-wise it doesn’t have to be for anything — it can be linked to a useful trait, or be a trait of its own but neutral to survival and so immune to selection.

    I suspect it’s linked to a useful trait in this case (to wit, avoidance behaviour) in combination with the reaction time of the individual birds.

  8. This is referred to as ‘Black Sun’ in Denmark. It happens in March and/or April at sunset in the marshlands in the Western portion of the country. The birds that exhibit this behavior are European Starlings.

  9. @13: Hey love the footage. Ever think of publishing it under creative commons? We might be able to find some good use for footage like that!

    Derek Bledsoe
    Segment Producer, BBtv

  10. All of these videos are really cool, but Flashman, that was awesome! The music was a perfect fit.

    I’ve looked at flocking birds for years and just thought it was the coolest looking thing. I’ve never seen any flocks of this magnitude before. I think that it is the closest visual representation to how beautiful music makes my heart feel. If that makes any sense at all.

  11. While parts of it are obviously genuine, many portions still look suspiciously doctored.

  12. I have a link stuck in my old bookmarks for the same phenomenon in Denmark; these photos are pretty neat but don’t have the captivating motion of this video.

    Beautiful title, “Black Sun In Denmark”


  13. Birds??? Hmmmm…

    I’m going with evil nanobot swarm. We’re doomed.

    @ FLASHMAN: Mesmerizing, thanks! Love the song; never heard that particular version.

  14. @18

    In San Rafael, CA there is a hillside that yearly plays host to similar formations. I have seen equivalent sized flocks many times. There’s no reason to suspect this video is in any way inauthentic.

    Except for that 4th missile.


  15. I saw a similar massive flock of ducks and geese once in western Manitoba, feeding on a fields of grain which had recently been flattened by hail.

    Of course they did not have that fast, tight formation (in our area snowbirds fly like that). This flock was like a giant salt-and-pepper coloured snake moving slowly through the air. The main body of it blotted out the sky, and filled about 120 degrees of the horizon. They were perhaps two kilometers from me.
    Over the course of a half-hour or so this “snake” made its way across the sky, touching down in a spot where there was a lot of grain, then rising up to look for more food.

  16. there’s no way yet to fly among them without disturbing them.. pity. That’s why free diving in a school of anchovies or muroaji or other small schoolers is so wonderful. You fly with them and they interact with you.

  17. true story: I saw several flocks of bird do exactly this as I was standing on top of the Vatican building looking out over Rome. it was totally surreal and I will always remember it.

  18. hi all. a mesmeric video, from the BBC’s Autumnwatch a couple of years ago:

    the guy in the video – Bill Oddie – often gets a bit of stick in the UK for giving birdwatchers a bad name, being a bad presenter etc – but I think he immortalises himself here in a very good way

  19. This video makes me think about how the North Korean Mass Games might look life if set to jazz, a form of music sharply criticized by the late Kim Il Sung.

  20. #16: Thanks Derek, I’d be happy to. How would I go about that? You could contact me via this username over on Metafilter.

  21. In a way, it’s a sad statement of the way humans have handled wildlife conservation that such a formation is viewed as unusual or newsworthy. Most species of non-predatory birds have flocking behavior, and if their numbers are large enough they will have formations similar to this. The fact that this occurrence is so rare tells us a lot about the disappearance of large flocks of birds like the passenger pigeon.

  22. Hi,
    the movement looks tooooo suspicious to me especially at the end when birds come so close to “hide the sky”…couldn’t it be a well done computer effect?

    Interesting in any case.


  23. Nature provides examples of the many acting as a unified whole. Even if it’s only in superficial terms. Humans do this sort of mass-dancing also, but we’re slower and the motions are harder to see. A contrived example would be a stadium full of people doing the wave. A more complex example would be a basic fractal graphics program. The Borg would act this way, wouldn’t they?

  24. Jadeide: Nope, even if this video is faked (and I don’t think it is) there are enough of us who have seen something like this – birds blotting out the sky – with our own eyes.

    In the late winter here you will even see sparrows moving by the thousands to strip berries off trees. It’s like that hitchcock movie, except that the worst they do is leave berry pits and poo all over your car.

    I mentioned snowbirds here in Canada. They fly in this kind of tight, fast swarm and the whole flock will flash from white to black depending on which side of their wings you see. It’s also very trippy, though I have never seen them in flocks as big as in this video.

  25. @ #25
    i lived in san rafael last year, and i was not prepared for this phenomenon. driving back from work (corte madera) on a warm day, there were only four possible explanations:

    1) aliens, here, now

    2) best kite evar

    3) surreptitious hallucinogens planted in my afternoon coffee

    4) just plain going crazy

    i’m still not sure which it technically falls under.

  26. @BROWNHB: Was just about to add a comment about Rome when I saw yours. Yes, for some strange reason this seems fairly common in Rome. I can think of seeing it at least 10 times over a period of 4 months. And strangely always from the same place, looking out over the city from the Gianicolo (which is much the same view from the Vatican).

  27. Re: #34 POSTED BY BWCBWC

    Yes, sad but true. Its interesting to read historical documents and pick up the references to huge populations of birds that filled the sky.

    A little as a couple of generations ago the world was very different. Extensive oyster beds in San Francisco Bay, huge flocks of nesting water fowl, the vast pods of Sperm Whales in the Pacific… Sometimes I think I don’t really know what the world looks like. In 2008 I am amazed to see a dozen pelicans flying down the coast line. How does that compare to the life the planet once held? Each generation looks at nature and says “This is normal”. And that makes it easier to slice off a little bit more.

    I wonder what this place will look like a thousand years from now. An Easter Island continent?

    A vast, desolate landscape with thousands of giant crucifixes, toppled into the dirt by the last generation.

  28. #9 evolution
    first you start behaving like that. Then a couple of animals in the outskirts of the herd start behaving more agressively and the ones inside start doing other menial tasks. That´s specialization.

    the next thing you know that amoeba is now a self replicating superorganism.

    A flying-self regenerating-selfreplicating- one. Coming right to your face.

  29. @Stubar — how interesting! Do you know if they’re starlings? Maybe they live somewhere close to the river. . .

  30. Saw something like that over some fields in North Carolina. I had no idea what it was and had to pull over along with about half a dozen other motorists. I sat there for almost half an hour on the hood of my car just transfixed. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

  31. strumpet windsock: Just an idea. I believe you guys. Such amazing phenomenon…but in Paris (France) of course the best you could expect from nature is in the sumptuous but artificially taste “Jardin des plantes”.
    No more wild places in the old Europe.

  32. I saw a similar flock formation in Houston, Texas on 28th November 2001 (the date had extraordinary significance for me). Seeing this flock live is surreal, hypnotic, and a teeny-bit scary. Since that time, I have tried unsuccessfully to determine the species of avian (bird), whether there are certain types that migrate using updrafts/downdrafts or other air currents (as it appears that these are a small in size, and may “glide” longer distances to conserve energy?? I really have no clue, but it is really the only logical conclusion I have that explains what I saw in person or on the video…which are nearly identical, with the exception of location). Surely some PhD somewhere has an explanation for this…

  33. They apparently call the phenomenon ‘Black Sun’ in Denmark because when the flock appears, it truly does obscure the sun…again, a sort of scary occurrence. Seems like it could be for migratory purposes, protection, feeding or any number of other reasons…but it would be nice to hear a scientific explanation.

  34. Thank you all for sharing! I witnessed something like this yesterday evening from my balcony (in Silver Spring, MD). Today, after watching the video above, I was moved to write the poem, below.



    Hypnotic like a school of airborne fish
    they frolic about in the open sky
    flickering into focus and diffusing
    back to the ether that spawned them

    Gathering like a storm and breaking in waves
    raining hard as a downpour of butterflies
    flitting like a great kite, giddy it got away
    but guided by a steady and invisible hand

    How do they know to spell such pretty letters
    and fluid arabesques across the stage of heaven
    these soundless fireworks erupting into Art
    as they swarm and glide as though of one mind?

    – Yahia Lababidi

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