On Saturday evening, people glancing at the sky over parts of Great Falls may have seen a rather unusual sight: a murmuration - a large flock of birds that move in parallel, mimicking the moves of surrounding birds, creating a "moving cloud" of activity.
It happened between about 6:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., as the birds swooped and swirled again and again, creating a mesmerizing display that could be seen for miles.
This video was shot from NW Great Falls looking south:
This video was shot by Connie Bass on Saturday (facing east):
Murmurations can sometimes be seen near West Bank Park in the evenings, although they are not usually as large as the one seen on Saturday.
Nadine Josefine shared this video she shot on Sunday, October 16, near Taco Bell on the NW side of town:
So what exactly is a murmuration? From The Conversation: "A shape-shifting flock of thousands of starlings, called a murmuration, is amazing to see. As many as 750,000 birds join together in flight. The birds spread out and come together. The flock splits apart and fuses together again. Murmurations constantly change direction, flying up a few hundred meters, then zooming down to almost crash to the ground. They look like swirling blobs, making teardrops, figure eights, columns and other shapes."
And the explainer website How Stuff Works provides this overview:
Italian physicists used more than 400 photos from several videos to find out, plotting the position and speed of birds as they flocked. From that, they built a mathematical model that identified the optimal number of flock-mates for each bird to track.
Turns out the magic number is seven: Each bird keeps tabs on its seven closest neighbors and ignores all else. Considering all these little groups of seven touch on other individuals and groups of seven, twists and turns quickly spread. And from that, a whole murmuration moves. The scientists' findings were published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology in January 2013.