4 Million Wondrous Autumn Starlings

December 3, 2007 / Local Interest
Like clockwork the storni (starlings) show up every fall on their migratory path to warmer climates. And like clockwork each fall people ask one another the same question over and over. “Chiss√° perch√© fanno quelle strane forme?” (Literally, “Who knows why they make those strange shapes?”

Yet on most fall evenings when the storni rise up for about an hour, even without a sure answer as to what they are doing, you’ll regularly spot people staring at the sky, mesmerized by the birds’ completely improvised yet flock-level choreographed acrobatics. Think high-level 3D geometry, in movement . . . parabolas, hyperbolas, toruses, ellipses, all expanding and contracting, elongating again, suddenly dividing into many identical smaller shapes, to join a second later into a unified whole again.

In Rome alone they are said to number about 4 million this year. I’ll refrain from ruining the poetry of their flight by describing the effect that they have on tree lined streets. That said, while the question “why?” remains unanswered you’ll still overhear people talking about “those strange shapes” in childlike wonder year after year.


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

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