Often, if you are out of doors and crane your neck at such an angle that you are looking up at the sky, you will see a flock of birds. Not always, but often, often enough in any case to make my opening sentence credible. I strive, as a writer, to be credible. I think all writers do. We want readers to believe what we are telling them, if only temporarily, during the act of reading. This is the case even with persons who write of outlandish and preposterous things, for example those kinds of science fiction stories set in the distant future on far-flung planets, where characters with names like Zybog and Kagvond try to prevent an explosion at the weapons facility on Planet X-47215, while menaced by intergalactic beings with tentacles and metallic parts. This is obviously tosh, but the writer will try to make it credible. As soon as you put the potboiler or pulp magazine aside, you can dismiss what you have just read as piffle. The important thing is that you believe it while you are reading it.
So I do not think it is outwith the bounds of reason to claim that, in peering up at the sky, you will often see a flock of birds. It depends where you are, of course. Some areas are more bird-haunted than others. If you are in a desert, you might see a flock of vultures, circling over potential carrion, but probably not as often as, at the seaside, you might spot a flock of seagulls. In fact at some seaside resorts, particularly those with gigantic rubbish tips in the vicinity, it is hard to look up at the sky without seeing teeming seagulls. The desert and the seaside are extreme cases, geographically, but the fact that in both, or rather above both, one might glimpse flocks of birds is telling, I think, in terms of my argument.
Not all birds fly about in flocks. Come to think of it, not all birds fly. The ostrich, for example, is a flightless bird, and a remarkably stupid one. That being so, you are unlikely to read a sentence such as
Above, a huge flock of ostriches swooped in the blue sky, silhouetted against the blazing sun at noon on Thursday.
which would probably cause you to fling the book across the room in exasperation. On the other hand, you might find it credible if the sentence was
Above, a huge flock of ostriches swooped in the beige sky, silhouetted against the blazing suns at noon on Thursday at the weapons facility on Planet X-47215, where Zybog and Kagvond were doing battle with intergalactic beings with tentacles and metallic parts while trying to prevent an explosion which would have unforeseeable effects on the space-time continuum.
In this context, flying ostriches might be credible. Much depends on your tolerance for science fiction. If it is low, you might still fling the book across the room in exasperation, and go to find something else to read.
If a writer wishes to entertain you, however fleetingly, with a scene in which a flock of birds is visible in the sky, they will need to do a spot of ornithological research to ensure that the birds they mention are indeed ones that fly about in flocks. One of the reasons for this is that no writer is omniscient, and it may well be that among their readers are persons who know more than they do about particular subjects. The ignorant but wily writer can get around this by being non-specific, as in this example:
“Gosh, Primrose, look! There is a huge flock of birds in the sky!”
The risk here is that the ornithologically-competent reader could find themselves wondering what type of birds, precisely, are being pointed out to international woman of mystery Primrose Dent in your exciting espionage thriller. In their wondering, they are likely to become distracted and disengaged from the convoluted plot you are doing your best to keep moving briskly along, and they might fling the book across the room in exasperation. It would be better, then, to write
“Gosh, Primrose, look! There is a huge flock of starlings in the sky!”
as starlings do in fact fly in flocks. Your bird-brainy reader will be entertained, and may even impute to you more ornithological knowledge than you actually possess. This is not without its own risks, but generally speaking the reader will bask in their delusion so long as you do not get too carried away. Just because you know that starlings fly in flocks does not mean that you can start blathering on about their feeding habits, nesting patterns, lore and legend, and what have you, unless of course you already know about these things. If you do not, but still feel impelled to write about starlings’ feeding habits, nesting patterns, lore and legend, etcetera, to add a piquant starlingy quality to your prose, then for God’s sake submit your manuscript to a trained ornithologist before unleashing it upon the world. This is particularly important if, in devising the character of international woman of mystery Primrose Dent, you decide it would be apt to make her a starling expert. If you cannot be bothered to do the research, or cannot afford the services of an ornithology adviser, your best bet would be to make Primrose Dent an intergalactic woman of mystery, and have her scooting about bent on espionage at the weapons facility on Planet X-47215. That way, she can be an expert on space-starlings rather than real, earthly starlings, and you can write whatever you like about their feeding habits, nesting patterns, lore and legend, etcetera, because you will be making it all up. Just don’t forget to make it credible.
It may be that you wish to peer at flocks of birds in the sky without ever writing a word about them. In that case, take a pair of binoculars and a packed lunch, and stride up into the hills, and gaze. Even in areas less bird-haunted, sooner or later a flock of birds will appear in the sky, God willing.