Starlings Form Image of Whale In Israel
Breathtaking "murmurations" - dark, shifting shapes that look like vast dancing clouds - fill the skies of southern Israel and surrounding areas in winter.
Starlings from Russia and eastern Europe winter in the Holy Land, swooping, pivoting and soaring, putting on a display to shame any aerobatics team.
They embark on their spectacular antics in the evening. According to ornithologist Yossi Leshem of Tel Aviv University, they do it both to help each other find food and to fend off predators.
A falcon or hawk will try to focus on a single bird, Leshem said. By grouping together, the starlings not only find safety in numbers but their changing movements and shifting collective shape confuses would-be attackers.
They can even create a sudden breeze with their synchronised movements, he said, causing a hawk or falcon to fall flat on its back - not unlike winds of different speeds and directions buffeting an aircraft.
Until 20 years ago, starlings came to Israel in their millions, usually descending on the northern part of the Negev desert, which remains warm in winter. But for unknown reasons their numbers have dropped. In the past few years they have come in flocks of no more than a few hundred thousand.
They can be seen in Israel above a rubbish dump near the southern city of Beersheba, where they feed during the day and circulate on warm air rising from the detritus.
Avid bird watchers and families gather over the weekends to spot the dazzling displays, with the birds twisting and turning at high speed, creating dramatic, sweeping patterns in the sky, contracting and expanding like a spiralling tornado.
At dusk they begin to gather together for the night. Reuters