Bird Swarm Yonge Dundas

Crazy video of a bird swarm over Yonge-Dundas Square

This video of birds swarming over Yonge-Dundas square, shot by Ryan Feeley at dusk on January 5th, is pretty damn amazing. In fact, so much so that I still have my doubts that it's not an example of digital manipulation. But, despite the fact that this was my initial reaction, I'm willing to back off this stance given that Toronto photographer Rannie Turingan (a.k.a Photojunkie) also snapped a pic (above) of the weird but beautiful phenomenon a couple days earlier. Sure, both the video and the photo aren't particularly sharp (make sure to change the former's output to 720p to avoid major pixelation), but a conversation between the two on Twitter sure doesn't seem disingenuous.

So enough about that -- let's just postulate that it's real for the time being (if it's not, feel free to bash my journalistic diligence later).

Um, wow.

Although not as profound as what one might see from the starlings in Otmoor (England), there's little doubt that the urban location adds an odd and compelling dimension to the event. It's difficult (impossible?) to tell the species of bird from both the photo and video, but I'm quite sure I've never seen this in Toronto before.

"Why is this happening?" asks Feeley on YouTube. Well, I'm certainly no expert, but from what I can gather, along with the complex social reasons for which birds flock/swarm like this, such behaviour helps them to defend against predators and even to keep them warm through the night.

As intriguing a question as why birds exhibit such behaviour may be, perhaps "how" this acrobatic choreography is possible is even more tantalizing. Here's the most lucid answer I've found. "Such movements are a prime example of emergent behavior: the behavior is not a property of any individual bird, but rather emerges as a property of the group itself. There is no leader, no overall control; instead the flock's movements are determined by the moment-by-moment decisions of individual birds, following simple rules in response to interactions with their neighbors in the flock."

So says a post on the Straight Dope (take it for what you will), but simple as the rules may be, the result seems anything but. In fact, it's enough to get me thinking of Yeats' most famous question: "O body swayed to music, O brightening glance / How can we know the dancer from the dance?"

Check it out...you might just feel poetic too. And, hey, at least they're not falling from the sky...


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