Monday, September 12, 2011


  One of my recent assignments was this four pager for Ranger Rick magazine,  some of my favorite people to work with, on bird flocking behavior.  I suggested  a few other titles:  “The Birdy Bunch”, and “Hangin’ with my Peeps”,  but they passed on both.  I could see a bird saying “Marcia, Marcia , Marcia!” or some home-birds perched on a stoop. No?  O.K., perhaps some other time. Here's the first spread:

art created 5-13-11

  Birds of a feather flock together, but so do birds of several varieties. When a flock of birds is feeding; usually one bird  acts as a sentinel and will be the first to sense danger. When that one takes off;  the rest take their cue almost instantaneously.  Acorn woodpeckers have lots of Moms and Dads (and sisters and brothers) who help feed the kids. It’s like a bird commune.  I could have  put some Birkies on those bird feet… missed my chance.


 A great magazine to read indoors or outdoors.

Illustrations from the second spread:

  I found the coolest video while looking for reference. The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen birds do: a  massive flock behavior in starlings called murmuration. The shapes morph into one another like a 3-D mobius strip. Displaying strength in numbers, they are trying to distract a predator. They are also making art.  Similar to those rotating shoals of fish, it’s some kind of instinctual choreography.
  The starlings’ displays are so complicated that they are being researched by physicists, aeronautical engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as biologists. Starling numbers are a fraction of what they used to be.  The decline is believed to be due to the loss of permanent pastures, the use of pesticides and a shortage of food and nesting sites.


sheree boyd said...

I'm thinking if physicists, aero. engineers, mathematicians and comp sci are studying murmuration we need to get rid of the term 'bird brain'...b/c clearly these are some smart animals! Heck, w/out gps most of us 2 legged animals couldnt find our way to the grocery store! :)

BTW I'm your first friend um 'follower' so I deserve a prize/payoff :)

Debbie Palen said...

heehee.. I know they are smarter than me!
Here's your "prize", bird get to read this! This is happening here tonite!! and I should go!
"Bird Tornadoes Hit Burton"...Tonight you can catch one of its craziest acts as gazillions of chimney swifts plummet down a Burton chimney as if on cue. Why do they do it? And how can the folks at the Geauga Park District be sure it's going to happen?

According to senior naturalist Dan Best, it's all in the programming. At sundown this time of year, it's predictable that local birds will be joined by "travelers" seeking a migratory hotel for the night — generally an uncapped chimney of an older home or institution. The birds gradually swell in the sky, swirling in ever-tightening circles until, one by one, they begin to drop swiftly into the chimney.

"They make several close passes before actually entering," Best says, "either waiting their turn based on some unknown fact of avian etiquette or just taking a while to decide when to enter." To understand the behavior, understand the bird. Chimney swifts are neotropical migrants, meaning they winter in the south and summer in the north. Though they once nested in hollow trees, America’s settlement and urbanization quickly introduced them to more convenient shelter – chimneys, where they can use their glue-like saliva to adhere stick nests to the inner walls.

Previous programs through Geauga Park District have counted upwards of 500 birds making their way in – noisy for a time, then silent as they rest up for the next leg of their journey to Peruvian wintering grounds.

Birdwatchers are invited to observe the spectacle tonight at 7:30. Just gather at the gazebo on the Burton Town Square, where park naturalists will emcee the performance.