Become a member

Help us give nature a home from £3 a month.

Print page

Starling flocks: a wild spectacle

Large flock of starlings congregating at dusk

Murmuration exaltation: a starling flock forms a fantastic acrobatic mass before roosting

Image: David Kjaer

A murmuration of starlings is an amazing sight - a swooping mass of thousands of birds whirling in the sky above your head.

What's going on?

It's basically a mass aerial stunt - thousands of birds all swooping and diving in unison. It's completely breathtaking to witness.

We think that starlings do it for many reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers – predators such as peregrine falcons find it hard to target one bird in the middle of a hypnotising flock of thousands.

They also gather to keep warm at night and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas. 

They gather over their roosting site, and perform their wheeling stunts before they roost for the night. 

When and where?

  • Autumn roosts usually begin to form in November, though this varies from site to site and some can begin as early as September. 
  • More and more birds will flock together as the weeks go on, and the number of starlings in a roost can swell to around 100,000 in some places. 
  • Early evening, just before dusk, is the best time to see them across the UK. You don't need any special equipment as it's all visible by just looking to the skies.
  • They roost in places that are sheltered from harsh weather and predators, such as woodlands, but reedbeds, cliffs, buildings and industrial structures are also used. During the day, however, they form daytime roosts at exposed places such as treetops, where the birds have good all-round visibility.
  • Several of our reserves make great viewing spots for murmurations. Other popular sites to see starlings include Gretna Green in Dumfries and Galloway, and Brighton Pier, Sussex. 

Watch them swoop the loop

Don't just take our word for it, check out this amazing video of a starling murmuration. 

Don't be fooled by big flocks

Despite the incredible size of the flocks, starling numbers are just a fraction of what they used to be. Huge starling flocks used to gather over Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast, but today you have a much better chance of seeing the birds in rural areas.

The starling population has fallen by over 80% in recent years, meaning they are now on the critical list of UK birds most at risk.

The decline is believed to be due to the loss of permanent pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and a shortage of food and nesting sites in many parts of the UK.