Dwarfed by the jetliner, they look little more than a smattering of black dots.
But this flock of birds could have brought the plane crashing down in seconds.
They flew straight into the path of the Germania airlines flight to Kosovo as it took off from Dusseldorf airport with 80 on board.
‘It was like a scene from the Hitchcock movie The Birds. One second all was clear, and the next thing you saw were these birds swarming over the plane,’ said an onlooker.
It is thought more than 200 starlings were sucked into the right engine as the Boeing jet approached 200mph.
Others dented the fuselage but thankfully did not pierce it. Their splattered remains could be seen on the plane later.
‘The pitch of the engine said it all,’ said plane-spotter Juergen Kienast, who took these dramatic pictures.
‘It was like sticking a bit of metal pipe into a blender.’
Once airborne, the pilot reported engine damage and circled for almost 45 minutes before landing safely.