A murmuration of starlings is a system that’s ready to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling is connected to every other. When they turns in unison, it’s a phase transition (def. – when a substance changes from a solid, liquid, or gas state to a different state. Every element and substance can transition from one phase to another at a specific combination of temperature and pressure.)
At the individual level, the rules guiding this are relatively simple. When your neighbor moves, so do you. Depending on the flock’s size, speed and individual flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. But we don’t know yet what physiological mechanisms allow this to happen almost simultaneously with two birds separated by hundreds of feet and hundreds of other birds.
The implications extend beyond birds. Starlings may be the most visible and beautiful example of a biological transition that operates in proteins and neurons, hinting at universal principles yet to be understood.
More about Murmuration (via Wired)