Pennsylvania Game News - October 2018 - 62

Dozens of papers have speculated on
how and why murmuration occurs.
British naturalist Edmund Selous, in
his 1905 paper, called it "a madness in
the sky." After 30 years of studying murmuration and other flocking by birds, he
thought only the threat from a predator,
such as a peregrine falcon, or "a kind of
telepathy between the birds," could be
responsible.
Another scientist, Wayne Potts, of
Utah State University, suggested "The
Chorus Line Hypothesis." Through video
study of dunlin flocks, which also move
in waves, he determined a single bird
might initiate a maneuver that spreads
through the flock in a wave. Since the
transference of movement from one bird
to another is twice as fast as a human's
visual reaction time, Potts concluded
each bird must anticipate the spreading
wave and react before it gets there.
This behavior by birds also has attracted the interest of engineers, physicists,
physicians and others who hope it holds
the key to things like figuring out traffic patterns on highways, comprehending particle swarms,
learning how crystals
form and gaining
knowledge about
how our brains
operate.

62

In 1987, software designer Craig
Reynolds developed a program called
"Boids," which featured virtual birds
modeled after the blackbird flocks he
observed in a California cemetery. He
programmed each virtual "boid" to follow three rules: avoid collisions, fly at
the same speed, and move in the same
direction.
Scientists interested in collective robotics and crowd modeling have cited
his work. But movie buffs might be more
impressed that the computer-generated
swarms of flying bats in Batman Returns,
and the battle scenes depicted in The
Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, used
a software program similar to "Boids."
And Reynolds, in 1998, received an
Academy Award for his "Boids" design
and its importance to film animation.
In recent decades, numerous studies
have continued to examine murmuration
using computer simulations and citizen
science.
STARFLAG - Starlings in Flight
- was a study conducted by European
physicists, economists and biologists
from 2004 to 2007.
Using photos of 3,000 starlings
swarming over Rome's Termini railroad
station, taken from two different angles,
the researchers determined the spatial relationship of each bird in a flock is based
on the position of six or seven nearby
birds, and this so-called "topological interaction" remains relatively consistent.
This allows flocks to "change shape,
fluctuate and even split, yet maintain
the same degree of cohesion [because]
information moves across the flock very
quickly, and with nearly no degradation,"
the study's authors concluded.
Thus, starlings can respond to what



Pennsylvania Game News - October 2018

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