It’s spring. Really it is, in spite of the weather. The birds know.
They can tell because there’s more light in the world. The days are longer, the nights are shrinking, and they know it’s time to move.
Huge groups of starlings, red-winged blackbirds, and grackles are swooping around, back from their winter spent in warmer climates. They’re complaining loudly about the frigid weather up here. They’re waiting impatiently, like the rest of us, for the weather to warm up.
And my favorites, the crows, are still hanging out in their winter roosting spots at night. They’re restless, though. They’re staking out their nesting territories, out in the suburbs. Crows in upstate New York usually start nesting in the last week in March or thereabouts, so this cold weather is holding up their spring plans as well as mine.
A flock of birds in motion is a strange and mysterious sight. How do they do it!? How do they all manage to swoop and glide like one unit, never crashing into each other? They all rise from the trees at the same moment, and bank and weave in perfect unison. It seems they must have practiced for years, like the Rockettes, or those drill teams you see at football games. Or maybe there’s one Major General bird up front, barking out: “Left! Right! Up! Down!”
Scientists have studied this unison movement, and determined, using slow-motion video, that there is no one leader in a big flock. The birds respond to each other. Any bird, making a sudden turn, can inspire others to instantly follow.
Here’s a really interesting science website, called The Straight Dope. (Their motto is: Fighting Ignorance Since 1973. It’s taking longer than we thought.) It has a really good explanation of how the flocking behavior works (funny, he also compares it to the Rockettes.)