Life is sometimes a surprise and a delight: thankful for a miniature murmuration of starlings

I don’t know what Leonard Cohen had in mind when he sang about a bird on a wire. I’ve always imagined it was a caged bird. But yesterday, I wondered if he was writing about Starlings.

I was sitting at a stop light, behind a woman who was determined to drive six miles below the speed limit, unless I tried to pass her, in which case she raced to the precipice of the speed limit. I was trapped behind her, impatient on a cloudy, mucky day. I wanted to be home.

Instead I was behind her in traffic, destined to stay below the speed limit and to catch as many red lights as is possible on U.S. Route 6 between Orland Park and Flossmoor.

As I sat at the light I looked up and noticed birds on the electrical wires. Dozens and dozens of birds, very likely Starlings. To my right they were bunched up, one indecipherable from another. On the wire above the stop light in front of me, they were spaced out, one or two just landing, fluttering, settling.

Just as the last of them settled, one down the line rose up and took flight and then Starling hell broke loose. Dozens of them took to the air. To my right, they lifted as if they were one entity, but then began breaking apart and falling into formation.

At one point, they seemed confused, flying toward each other, just missing head on collisions, but then they hit their stride. They flew right and left and down. One group went one direction, the other group flew away and then they flew back together, as if they were connected by invisible strings. Their turns were sudden, all held in the frame of my front windshield.

Some of the group flew like they were like ink spreading on fibrous paper. But another group were clearly individuals moving in unison, each wingspan decipherable to my eyes.

As suddenly as they flew up, they flew back to their wires, to be as they were before. The group to the right, tucked in next to each other so closely they looked like one entity. The group in front of me were spread out and striking a variety of poses.

These birds are a mystery to me. I don’t know how they do what they do, and I don’t know why they do what they do. But they are beautiful to watch. I’m not much of a fan of nature being seen through soft and fuzzy eyes. Starlings are murder to be around when they’re in your backyard. They’re loud and aggressive and pretty ugly.

But they move together in ways that are hard for me to understand. In fact, yesterday, I didn’t really want to understand. I just wanted to watch them. They surprised me and delighted me.

Life is like that sometimes. A surprise and a delight. You’re sitting at a stoplight and these birds are what they are. Whether you see them or don’t, they’re doing their acrobatics or huddling on electrical wires.

Thanks to traffic and a slow driver who thwarted me, I did see them.

Here is an extraordinary video of starlings flying in a huge group. It’s called a “murmuration.”

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