Seeing a million birds moving as one is an astounding demonstration of how animals unite and coordinate with one another in ways humans could only dream of. When an Israeli photographer went bird watching last winter, he got the image of a lifetime — a one-in-a-million shot of a flock of starlings forming a teaspoon in the sky.
A spoonful of birds?
Albert Keshet, a local photographer in Israel, has had 10 years of experience taking photos of the country’s wildlife. But nothing would prepare him for the amazing shot he would take in December 2021.
One early morning, in the northern Jordan Valley, Keshet traveled to find groups of starlings making their way through the skies. Keshet was no stranger for photos of flying birds — his Instagram is filled with photos of birds in flight.
After several hours watching the birds, Keshet caught the stunning image of the starlings forming a teaspoon in the sky. For mere moments, the starlings kept the spoon formation, warping it into different angles as if they were bending the spoon. Brief as it was; the birds kept it long enough for Keshet to take his pictures.
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“In the 10 years that I have been traveling and taking photos, this is one of the most amazing pictures of starlings I have ever taken!” Keshet told the BBC.
Keshet uploaded his photos online and they became a social media sensation. The legendary spoon bender himself, Uri Geller, loved the pictures so much that he made sure they were on display in his museum in Tel Aviv.
On his birthday, Dec 20, 2021, just days before Keshet uploaded his photos to the public, Geller praised the “phenomenal photo,” saying,
“What a natural gift for my birthday. Thanks Albert.”
Jordan Valley attracts a variety of wildlife, including a menagerie of different species of birds. Around 500 million birds gather and flock throughout these skies during their spring and autumn migration periods, giving Keshet ample opportunity to capture shots of these striking displays. He also enjoys photographing Israel’s beautiful plantlife.
The sight of such a quantity of birds alone is enough to inspire awe, but with them all soaring and swooping with the precision and cohesion of one body is truly mind boggling.
This magnificent phenomenon is called murmuration, a swarm behavior common to several bird species — and even some fish — used to confuse predators and disrupt their ability to target one individual bird.
Other photographers have captured murmurations in the form of giant birds, whales, hearts, a duck, a cheetah, a grasshopper and even dolphins.
Starlings, the most common species to form murmurations, are migratory birds that come to the cliffs of Israel when their European homes are engulfed by winter.
According to LiveScience, a single murmuration of starlings can contain an average of one million birds, all flying and dancing together in spectacular unison.
“They are quite beautiful. It almost looks like smoke,” ornithologist Noah Strycker told LiveScience. “And it just gets you wondering, how many of them are there?”
A 2013 study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology hypothesized that each bird watches the behavior of its fellow flockmates, adjusting its bearing to coordinate with the entire flock. This “balance between group cohesion and individual uncertainty” could explain how the birds above Jordan Valley formed the momentary teaspoon shape which quickly morphed again.
An extraordinary coincidence or a gift from the heavens? Whatever the case; nature provides many surprises when we open our eyes.