When a massive flock of birds swept into the sky during a film shoot in France, the crew just couldn't look away.
In fact, the recent phenomenon was captured on camera by crew members who say the stunning "bird ballet" took them by surprise in Marseille, Mother Nature Network reports. The birds are believed to be starlings, gathering in one of nature's most breathtaking phenomena: a murmuration.
"It was amazing," filmmaker Neels Castillon writes on Vimeo, where the clip was uploaded. "We just forgot our job and started this little piece of poetry."
The video (seen above) has been watched 194,000 times since it was posted four days ago, and viewers have sung its praises.
"Paintings on the sky. Incredible," said one appreciative netizen who commented under the name "Jacob Thomas Czech."
So what is a murmuration?
"One of the most stunning examples of collective behavior [in animals] is the spectacular display of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), the noun for which is a murmuration," scientists Andrew King and David Sumpter said in a 2012 Current Biology report.
Their report continued:
The mesmerizing act is typically seen at dusk throughout Europe, between November and February. Each evening, shortly before sunset, starlings can be seen performing breathtaking aerial manoeuvres, before choosing a place to roost for the night. These range in number from a few hundred to tens of thousands of birds. Murmurations exhibit strong spatial coherence and show extremely synchronized maneuvres, which seem to occur spontaneously, or in response to an approaching threat.
Though murmurations have been studied for years, King and Sumpter said that experts are uncertain about why starlings flock in this way. What scientists do know is that there is an exact method to the exquisite madness. The birds flock in patterns that are reminiscent of cutting-edge physics.
According to Wired magazine, which cited a 2008 report about this animal behavior: "Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition. At the individual level, the rules guiding this are relatively simple. When a neighbor moves, so do you. Depending on the flock’s size and speed and its members’ flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. What’s complicated, or at least unknown, is how criticality is created and maintained."
There remain many more questions about starling murmurations. According to King and Sumpter, scientists all over the world are working hard -- using computer simulations, physical data and other evidence -- to find the answers.
Read more about murmurations in King and Sumpter's report here.