Tree swallows perform sky ballet known as 'murmuration' as they prepare to migrate north

Every year as the weather gets warmer down south, tree swallows begin the process of migrating back north. Part of that process is called “murmuration” and photojournalist Matthew Apthorp got a “birds eye” view of a very neat an unique process.

It’s like clockwork. Every single year.  Birds of all shapes and sizes prepare to head north for the summer or head south for the winter. In Ruskin, Florida, tree swallows preparing for migration have a little bit of show to put on before they fly out for the summer.

They gather in the same area and form large groups. In cases like this one, millions of them. They then form a large line that waves back and forth across the sky. It looks like a a dance. Depending on how many of them there are, sometimes the murmuration can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour.

Mary Keith, President of the Tampa Bay Audubon Society gets to witness this first hand on a regular basis.

“What they’re doing is trying to protect themselves from falcons and eagles. Especially the peregrine falcons around here. They figure, if they have a a large number of birds on either side of them, they have a better chance of surviving.” she says as she peers through her super powered binoculars.

The birds gather from all over. As the sun begins to go down they form long lines that stretch all the way up to the clouds. They then begin to make their way down to the marsh below.

“It looks like a funnel cloud. Like a tornado. The just dive, dive, dive, until they’re down in the marsh for the night.” Keith says.

The swallows will do this for about a week or so until they head back north for the summer.

"When there's no peregrine falcons around, they will just funnel down into that marsh grass, spend the night and do it again tomorrow."

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