All flocked up.

The flock moved like a school of fish, swerving together, ruled by one collective brain. Interesting, but a sorry sight if you think individuality is a good thing.

They were blackbirds assembling for their annual migration. Hundreds, maybe thousands. Starlings and Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. More uncommon types, too: Yellow-headed and Brewer’s Blackbirds.


Going south makes sense. But their conformity illustrates how individuals can let their group take over.

All birds are fun to watch. They can make every day interesting as hell. But you just can’t help liking some more than others. I like the ugly Turkey Vulture I saw today, more than I like the flocking birds.

He was hovering on big black wings over a river, and had the sky to himself. A solitary cowboy, riding alone through town, self-sufficient, impossible to influence.

By contrast, chattering blackbirds in the fall are born joiners. I’ve known people like that. I don’t want to get into a discussion about them. Mobs are people at their worst.

I also like the Great Horned Owl. He commands his own tree and nobody better come near. The incorrectly named but fierce-eyed Bald Eagle calls his own shots.

But when it comes to individuality, nobody beats the Great Blue Heron that hangs out near my house. He sees the mobbing blackbirds assembling in the trees.

He notices them as they rise in a giant blob of squawking, shitting and flapping. Like me, he doesn’t like them much.

Yet we both wonder: How do a thousand little birds agree to turn right instead of left at the same moment?

The heron wouldn’t know it, but scientists have studied such synchronized movements with computers, and they’re stymied. It’s not as simple as locating a leader that everyone follows. The group turns together as one, seemingly with no cue.

The scientists, and the heron, along with the rest of us have got to say: it’s a flocking mystery

6 Responses to “All flocked up.”

  1. Ian Layton says:

    Bird of the month – October 2010.

  2. Bird Feeders says:

    Very fun post to read! I too prefer birds that fly to the beak of their own hummer.

  3. Aron says:

    This is just a theory but perhaps they are not all acting at the same moment; but rather each individual is RE-acting super quickly to the preceding bird. It happens so fast that to our inferior human eyes we perceive them all turning as a single entity. Awesome writing though, and extremely thought provoking. Bird on!

  4. Lee Dager says:

    and humorously all flocked up! I like the way your brain works.

  5. Richard B. says:

    …and humorous yet profound :0)

  6. Holly S. says:

    Great writing! Profound but humorous.