One of the routes I walk through my neighborhood takes me past a large pigeons’ roost. The pigeons and I have an agreement of sorts: I will walk slowly so as not to scare them as they pick at whatever they’re picking at on the ground. And those sitting above me in the trees will not, well, you know.
On one particular day, a truck blared its horn as it approached a nearby intersection, and the startled pigeons took flight. But they didn’t scatter randomly in the air. They took flight as if they were a single bird, turning and swooping in near-perfect unison.
That reminded me of a similar avian behavior — but on a much more massive scale.
Video credit: “The Art of Flying” – A film by Jan Van Ijken
Especially in coastal areas, Starlings and Red Wing blackbirds congregate in these massive numbers just before they roost for the night. This behavior is known as a “murmuration,” and ornithologists believe it’s done for protection. Swarm as a single unit with frequent changes in direction, and the group will confuse hungry hawks looking to pick off a single bird for an easy dinner.
Interesting, yes? But much more fascinating is how they do it. To find out, researchers photographed such swarms with very high-speed film. And then they slowed the film down so they could isolate the birds’ minuscule movements. Here’s what they discovered:
Because of the size of the swarm, there is no way for birds in the middle or back of the mass to key off the birds upfront. What they do instead is key off the 5-7 birds immediately ahead of them who in turn, key off the 5-7 birds ahead of them who, well, you get it.
The result is this beautiful, undulating, flowing form. The birds all look like they’re turning at precisely the same time when in reality, mere fractions of seconds separate one small group from another.
The second observation is that leadership constantly shifts. No single bird is always the leader with all other birds always following it. At any given moment, the current leader will pull back, and a new leader will take over.
And that brings us to this week’s podcast episode and guests, Todd Nesloney and Adam Dovico. Todd and Adam are life-long educators and the co-authors of When Kids Lead: An Adult’s Guide to Inspiring, Empowering, and Growing Young Leaders. There, they push aside the myth that “leadership” as a kid is restricted to an official position such as student council president or model U.N. representative.
Instead, as in the murmuration, every kid can serve as a leader at their level — and they can influence the actions of other potential young leaders. With the support of adults, kids can strengthen their confidence and skills, and demonstrate leadership by stepping up and serving others in some capacity. And in doing so, they can fend off such “adolescent hawks” as low self-esteem and not fitting in.
If you made it this far, thank you. Your online content choices are as plentiful as the birds in a murmuration. Thanks for flying with us. Now, roost for a minute, and enjoy the episode.