WEEKEND WEB: Starlings shape a spectacle

Starlings in flight
Starlings in flight
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TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE: A monthly column by Rachel Shaw of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

A flock of thousands of starlings twisting and turning as one is an awe-inspiring sight to behold. It’s also a smart move for the birds; there is safety and warmth in numbers.

Starling

Starling

During the winter, large numbers of starlings visit Britain from the continent. Like many other species of bird, they are seeking out the relative warmth of our island climate. Smaller flocks feed together during the day.

As dusk approaches, they set off for their communal roosts. Usually found in reedbeds, these roost sites can be the overnight home for tens, even hundreds of thousands of birds.

As flocks arrive, they gather together in the sky above their roost site. No one bird wants to be the first to land as there may be predators lurking. So they swoop and swirl in a ‘murmuration’, a huge flying flock of starlings like a cloud that’s constantly shifting its shape. The flock itself attracts predators such as sparrowhawks and peregrines, eager to pick off a meal.

However, the complex shapes and patterns formed by the flocks are visually confusing. It’s surprisingly hard to pick out and catch an individual.

As the last of the light fades, as if by secret signal, the birds suddenly decide it’s time and funnel down into the reeds.

Once in their roost, the sound of the starlings is also memorable. They are sociable chatty birds and it’s easy to imagine that they are sharing information about the best places to eat and how to get there.

It’s difficult to predict exactly when and where starling murmurations will occur. They don’t always roost in the same places every year and numbers can be very variable.

Look out for updates on social media as the winter progresses.

Seeing these vast flocks of birds can give the impression that all is well for starlings but, like many species, they have declined in numbers.