A beautiful viral video depicted the harmonious flight of hundreds of birds, leaving viewers claiming there to be no explanation behind it. One bird expert told news week that it’s only half true.
The amazing clip showed hundreds of starlings in an aerial performance in Rome, rhythmically moving together. Paired with classical music, the video left millions of viewers mesmerized after being uploaded last week.
“I absolutely lost my whole mind tonight,” TikTok user @fuelsfeels captioned the video, which can be viewed here. “There’s no scientific explanation for why they do this.”
In a week, the video gained over 7 million views, while a follow-up video of more clips, which can be viewed here, gained another 1.8 million.
For most viewers, the video was a reminder of the beauty on Earth, so often forgotten about. “If we explored new galaxies, or found aliens exist, it’d eventually be normal and unexciting. My point is that there’s so many crazy things on earth that we’re too used to, to really appreciate what we’re seeing or experiencing . This is one of those things,” wrote one user.
Others were simply perplexed by the movements, passing jokes as to possible reasons. “They do it for the sake of doing it,” joked one user, while another added: “Sometimes the simulation is beautiful for no reason.”
Despite TikTokers being adamant that the breathtaking formations have no explanation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) senior corporate communications executive Oli Lurie told news week that there is.
“Murmurations are an amazing spectacle,” he prefaced. “Essentially they’re a mesmerizing mass of thousands of birds swooping and diving in unison.”
Starlings, the birds documented in the video, are native to Europe but have been in the US since 1890 after Shakespeare fans decided to introduce them to New York’s Central Park, wanting to experience all the birds featured in his plays. Now, they have a population of approximately 200 million in North America but are classified as an invasive species.
“We believe this happens for several reasons: Firstly, starlings group together for safety in numbers, to stop being picked off by predators such as peregrine falcons, who find it hard to target a single bird in the middle of a whirling flock of thousands of starlings.”
The birds, he explained, gather over their “roosting sites” and perform the aerial acrobatics before coming in to roost overnight. “The birds also gather to keep warm at night and in cold weather, and to share information, such as good feeding areas,” he said.
“Roosts usually begin in November, although some start earlier, with some RSPB reserves seeing roosts start as early as September. As the weeks go on, more and more of the birds will begin to flock together, with roost numbers swelling to 100,000 in some place.”
How each bird knows when and where to move, and how they do it in such perfect timing, is, however, a mystery to bird experts across the globe.
For those wanting to see the aerial shows outside of a TikTok video, the best time is early evening, shortly before dusk. Roost sites can usually be found in areas sheltered from harsh weather and away from predators, including reedbeds, cliffs and woodlands.
In the US, some of the most popular murmurations can be spotted at locations like Central Park in New York and southeastern Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.
“Despite the impressive size of these murmurations, starling numbers are only a fraction of what they once were [in the U.K.]explained Lurie. “The starling population in the UK has fallen by over 80 percent in recent years, and starlings now find themselves on the list of UK birds most at risk. This decline is believed to be due to loss of permanent pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and a shortage of food and nesting sites across the UK”