A Murmuration of Starlings

A few days ago, I heard a bird singing in my spruce trees. I was able to see him silhouetted against the sky, but could not make out any details. Its song was familiar: a bubbling, burbling warble with no discernible beginning or ending. I had always thought this was the song of the starling, but I have been wrong in the past so I wondered if it were the Brewer’s blackbird we’d seen the day before at our feeder.  I went inside and pulled up the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and their song center. Nope, it wasn’t a Brewer’s blackbird so I checked starling and sure enough, despite the fact it was singing all by itself, not in a flock as I usually see them, it was indeed a starling. I know they are considered “invaders” but I like them. (I prefer to think of them as immigrants and, let’s be honest with ourselves, we are primarily a nation of immigrants.) The starling’s song reminds me of a spring freshet, bringing new growth and green things again.

There was also a video of a huge flock of starlings engaged in aerial acrobatics of tremendous proportions, mesmerizing in its calligraphy, precision, and beauty. The website explained the birds’ behavior was most likely in response to the attack of a falcon, which the birds were evading with incredible synchronicity, as if of one mind. I was awestruck.

Unfortunately for the noble falcon, this supreme predator had been hijacked by the Nazis as their signature symbol along with another symbol, also hijacked from its original meaning, the swastika. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, which means “good fortune” or “well-being” and is a sacred symbol for a number of faiths.

All this brought me back to present day with an unpleasant jolt, to the mess we are currently dealing with in Washington. I won’t sugar coat it: I feel that our values as a country of caring, well-meaning people have been steamrollered by a select group of people who are acting in a greedy and hateful way, people who feel that because they have money, power and influence, they can lie without remorse and take take take endlessly…and the rest of the world be damned. Yes, I am disturbed by this. Yes, I feel like there isn’t much I alone can do to fix it. But then I realized the message my starling was trying to sing into my soul:

There is power in community. By working together, starlings take care of each other, evading a supremely competent predator, not only surviving, but thriving. So can we.

So, how do starlings do this? The Lab of O reports that starlings are able to engage in these incredible feats of acrobatic choreography because they communicate with their seven nearest neighbors, clearly and precisely, with nothing lost in the translation from one bird to the next (unlike the human game of telephone, where the message gets more and more garbled the further it goes) In other words, the starling telegraphs the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to its seven nearest neighbors, who in turn do the same and so on throughout the flock, within seconds letting the entire flock know exactly where the predator is, and how to evade it. They work together, seamlessly and in full accord, to save not only themselves but every one of their flock.

Let us as Americans do the same: let us all determine what the real truth is, communicate ONLY the truth to one another and work together for the benefit of all.