Standing at sunset on the water’s edge in the Parque Landeta next to El Charco del Ingenio, a botanical garden set above a dam in San Miguel de Allende, a group of us at dusk marveled at waves upon waves of birds making their evening journey. At first they looked like typical migrating flocks. As they approached their roosting location that consisted of massive bamboo grass clusters however, the show was about to begin. We had been awaiting this for a while.
Like starlings known throughout the world for their murmurations, these black cowbirds in central Mexico have a choreography all their own. To spectators like ourselves, their patterns were reminiscent of tornadoes — or gentle waves. It all depended on the light and the very instant we looked. As more and more birds approached, their patterns grew almost into a frenzy: dancing, twisting, turning, swelling, merging, dividing and disappearing — and reappearing. Finally, as the sun began to set, more and more single birds and small bands broke away and began to dive like Kamikaze pilots into the clusters of the tall bamboo grasses growing in shallow water. At times the cowbirds seemed to change their minds on a whim. When all seemed quiet a few would fly up again and have another twirl or two before diving back in to settle down for the night.
It wasn't all about seeing though. Hearing the sounds of thousands of wings flapping reminded me of the subtle fluttering sounds of thousands upon thousands of monarch butterflies dancing amidst the Oyamel trees in Michoacan. Does a similar sound produced by these birds shed light on the word: "murmurations"? I was wondering what the word was about.
As the moon was about to rise, the birds were now roosting in the tall, dense, straw colored bamboo grasses rooted in the wetland. Come dawn, another show will begin. This one will be more tame as they head out to another body of water. We know they will be back later though to perform their dances all over again.