A Murmuration of Starlings | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Dozens of black birds rushing in the same direction catch my eye. Dozens and dozens more follow, taxing and then defeating my powers of multiplication. I am once again in the starlings' world, unexpectedly immersed in their secret religion.

It is not strictly their numbers that force me to stop and tune my eyes and ears to their rituals, but also their faithful dedication. Ten thousand beauties, each with its own fine wings of pearlescent darkness, move as one body, reverently submitting to a singular call that each seems to hear as clearly as a bell ringing.

Flying to assembly on branches of maple and oak, the starlings' cacophonous chatter would indicate frenzy if not for the causal order displayed in the trees. The faithful are patiently waiting for the latecomers, who trickle in, claiming their seats. I blink and lose sight of the single bird whose flight I was tracking. She has found her place and is suddenly indistinguishable from the others around her. There is no hurry as they wait, and just when it seems everyone is present and content to sit, the mystical bell is rung again—another silent signal causes a slow cascade, a spilling over of souls descending to the ground. 

A shower of black snowflakes falls from a blue sky as, one by one, each creature reaches a moment of fullness, and releases. Inexplicably, one leaves a branch where others stay and wait, so that the air is always filled. The trees slowly empty and the ground fills up with birds, like an hourglass that streams a steady flow while sand disappears and accumulates in proportion. The loud chatter is also proportionately diminishing; not the decrescendo of a choir, where all begin to gradually sing more softly, but a dropping out of voices altogether. The great dive from branch to ground is done silently, and the chatter comes from fewer and fewer until the last of the black lace drops to the ground like a falling veil.

Feet on the earth, the congregation assumes a humble posture for a few moments, bowing to collect whatever nourishment can be found—a bite of something to eat, a drop to drink. With mouths busy, there is only a murmur from the gathering that blankets the ground. Then suddenly, with a clockwork precision that once again transforms many thousands into one, the air is filled with a boom and an echo like a far-away cannon shot. Each small, delicate body has beat two wings against the air at the same moment, and they rise, as one, into the sky. No trompe l'oeil painting is necessary on the ceiling of their cathedral, which is always open to the sky, the heavens, and the ringer of the bells.

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