Hypnotizing Videos Trace Birds’ Flight Patterns

Wild Things
Slate’s animal blog.
Jan. 28 2014 3:51 PM

Visualizing Bird “Jizz”

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One of the best ways to identify a bird is by the way it flies, especially at a distance when details about its coloration and other field marks are hard to make out.  Birders call the way a bird moves the “jizz” of a species, and it can vary dramatically across species.

Information on flight behavior is valuable for field identification, but collecting large amounts of visual data on bird flight is a relatively new scientific practice.  This has been part of the inspiration behind a series of videos created by Dennis Hlynsky, head of the film/animation department at the Rhode Island School of Design. Using a time blend effect in Adobe After Effects, Hlynsky slogged through gigabytes of recorded video to visualize flight pattern data for several species, including black vultures, a mixed flock of swallows, and European starlings, famous for their murmuration flight behavior.

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In addition to teaching, Hlynsky is on the advisory group at RISD’s Edna Lawrence Nature Lab, and has used a similar approach to visualize plankton for the URI Coastal Institute.

You can watch all of his original videos here.

Ben Mirin is the project coordinator for Slate Custom. He is a producer, field ornithologist, and musician living in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter.

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