Starlings and the Magic of Murmurations: A Stunning Watercolor Celebration of One of Earth’s Living Wonders
By Maria Popova
Biking back to my rented cottage from CERN one autumn evening, having descended into the underworld of matter for a visit to the world’s largest high-energy particle collider, a sight stopped me up short on the shore of Lake Geneva: In the orange sky over the orange water, myriad particles were swarming in unison without colliding. Except they were not particles — they were birds. Thousands of them. A murmuration of starlings — swarm intelligence at its most majestic, emergence incarnate, a living reminder that the universe is “nothing but a vast, self-organizing, complex system, the emergent properties of which are… everything.”
The majesty and mystery of murmurations come alive with uncommon beauty in We Are Starlings: Inside the Mesmerizing Magic of a Murmuration (public library) by writers Donna Jo Napoli and Robert Furrow, illustrated by artist Marc Martin, who also brought us the wondrous A Stone Is a Story.
As a murmuration of starlings takes flight against a breathtaking watercolor sky, the story is told from the perspective of the birds — an antidote to our anthropocentric view of the natural world, which Rachel Carson pioneered nearly a century ago with her revolutionary writings about the sea.
Soft yet striking, the illustrations play masterfully with our sense of scale — we zoom out and out from closeups of the flock to the full sweep of the murmuration, then back to the scale of the feathered particle that is the individual bird.
A four-page gatefold wings the book with a sense of the astonishing grandeur of these small, fragile creatures constellating something immense and powerful, greater than the sum of its parts — one of the living wonders of this Earth.
Published October 24, 2023