Not everybody rejoices in the flocking behavior of birds. Perhaps Hitchcock's celebrated horror film released 60 years ago this year turned generations of moviegoers against birds forever.

Maybe it's only that large numbers of birds produce large amounts of droppings. But think of those extravagant murmurations of starlings, the way they draw a swirling picture in the air :

It's impossible not to marvel at their beauty. Watch a falcon enter the frame and the way the birds fly more closely together at the edges of the collective, and suddenly those murmurations are more than beautiful.

Or think about the way migrating cranes take turns flying at the heads of the group, sharing the wearying responsibility of fighting air currents and allowing the others to draft.

Think of how they show the younger birds the way to their nesting grounds, following the same routes toward home. How is it not possible to find a lesson here for our own kind?

Birds don't exist to teach us anything - they have their own purposes and their own complicated lives - but we are fools if we can't learn something important for our purposes, too, for our own complicated lives, in their dazzling, life-sustaining cooperation.

How sensible it is for a fragile species, having no fangs and no claws, to share resources. HOW WISE TO TURN TO ONE ANOTHER FOR HELP.

Already the sandhill cranes at Wheeler are beginning to disperse. Every day now, groups of them open their impossibly wide wings and rise as one.

They bank and turn and keep rising, heading north. For the rest of winter and on into early spring, they will pass over Nashville, calling to one another as they fly. Earthbound, I'll be listening. 

The World Students Society thanks author Margaret Renkl. She is the author of the books ''Graceland, at Last. Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South'' and '' Late Migrations : A Natural History of Love and Loss.''


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