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Luc_Roymans_167067

© Luc Roymans / Offset

Luc_Roymans_167068

© Luc Roymans / Offset

Luc_Roymans_167069

© Luc Roymans / Offset

Standing at the outskirts of a forest in the North of Holland, Belgium-based wildlife photographer Luc Roymans captures thousands of starlings as they ascent into the heavens, forming intricate and densely packed hordes across the painted sky.

Forming at dusk when the starlings set out to roost, the mysterious masses of fluttering birds are known as murmurations. Although science is just now catching up with the elusive phenomenon, we now know that starling murmurations can ensure safety for the small birds, serving as an instinctual defense against birds of prey. The changes in the birds’ movements happen at an almost imperceptibly fast rate, with each individual of hundreds or even millions maintaining a keen awareness to the slightest shifts in his fellows.

Through Roymans’s eyes, it seems almost impossible that these magical winged formations could ever be explained away by simple physics. The starlings emerge beneath his gaze as fairies, emissaries from another world, nimble dancers engaging in what he calls “a ballet by the birds.” While shooting, he was most struck by the variations in density of the murmurations, tracing the ways in which the birds alternately fanned out and huddled together. The swarm, he suggests, resembled not the sum of many individual creatures but a single, fluid mass blanketing the evening sky.

All photos featured in this post can be found on Offset, a new curated collection of high-end commercial and editorial photography and illustration from award-winning artists around the world. Offset is a category partner on Feature Shoot.

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