The phenomenology of instinct

Each unit instinctively follows simple rules of flight path in relation to the neighbouring units, resulting in remarkable and intensely beautiful patterns woven by flocks in the sky.  I have been experimenting in expressing this in a series of paintings.

I wonder what it feels like to be driven by instinct to flock in this way.  Do non-human animals feel emotions?  Do starlings feel something analogous to joy simply for flying in a group, rewarding them for acting according to their innate drives?

How would a sentient and self-aware animal describe such an instinct in itself?

Is this already an area of study, a school of philosophy or psychology?

8 responses to “The phenomenology of instinct

  1. Your watercolors do an excellent job of re-creating the movements of the birds, and you raise excellent questions about them. When I photographed the grackles that swarmed in my neighborhood and wheeled overhead for the past couple of months, I wondered some of the same things. I saw formations like the one depicted in your second picture, but they undulated so quickly, and the light at the end of day was so dim, that I couldn’t photograph them. I did manage to get something closer in feeling to your first image:

  2. What incredible pieces…i am back with the starlings, that great sigh washing over, like waves..

    Do you sell originals or prints at all?

    • Thanks.

      I must get out again to observe this and draw again. Flocks of birds fascinate me whether starlings on the wing or grounded guillemots seeing off predating herring gulls.

      I am happy to give pieces away. This does not mean I see my work as of no value, but I am not set up to paint professionally. The lower piece is framed.

      If you want a piece and feel so minded, I would suggest a donation to the skin cancer foundation which is part of Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charities. The URL is and there is a check box for “other” and you can write in “skin cancer” there. Next year we will have a clearer online profile. That or donate to Amnesty International.

  3. Hi there! I was in touch with you half a year ago regarding the use of your beautiful images to accompany an a capella album I’ve put together. I have the album ready, and would love to send you a copy or two. I sent an email about a month back and didn’t receive a reply so I thought I’d try through your online sketchbook.
    It looks great, by the way!

  4. Pingback: Hope’s Starlings – Murmurations | kestrelart

  5. I too am working on paintings trying to depict Murmurations. I am doing a tryptic that will show different scale… Attempting to give depth and movement.
    I’ll post them here when compleat.

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