Shorebirds are even more spectacular, in some respects, than starlings because they are light below, dark above, and so in addition to the rapidly shifting configuration of the flock, waves of light and dark flow through it as we see first their bellies, then their backs.





Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905)-472-9731
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From: SciArt-L Discussion List-for Natural Science Illustration- [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Linda Feltner
Sent: January-22-14 9:36 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [SCIART] (TAN) " down the rabbit hole" Stories


They learned some years ago that birds fly in these large formations by visual clues from the bird next to them. It was documented or confirmed by some sort of cool test, and I will find that when I can. I'm packing to teach a 3-day workshop in bird drawing!


Birds have an extraordinary reflexes and coordination. Their pupils are controlled by faster and different muscles than the human eye. Their eyesight in general is keener, blood vessels don't get in the way (like ours do). Their circulatory and respiratory system is efficient and allows instant energy upon command. Their super-flexible neck, head and body allows the acrobatics. I'm sure the Cornell articles are more specific. 


Thanks for posting the link, it worked fine for me. 


I've seen flocks of shorebirds do this in Washington State, a glistening cloud, indeed.






Linda M. Feltner Artist, LLC
P.O. Box 325
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(520) 803-0538






On Jan 22, 2014, at 6:18 AM, Barbara Harmon wrote:

Also learned from the Cornell blog that apparently (at least with Starlings) the birds are consistently coordinating with their seven nearest neighbors. But beyond that they are still somehow able to coordinate with other birds all the way across the flock... and they use the term “effective perceptive range" for this.

And as you said Barry, they are typically exhibiting this behavior in avoidance of a predator.  


On Jan 22, 2014, at 7:39 AM, Barry K. MacKay wrote:

My favourite story about this behaviour came from artist John James Audubon…and we will never see its likes again, nor be able to verify what he claimed.


As I recall he reported that he was watching an enormous flock of Passenger Pigeons flying by, when suddenly a Peregrine Falcon swooped down into them.   The flock swerved, in unison, to avoid the raptor.



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