Man on pier photographing starling murmuration on his phone against a moody orange evening sky

Nature's calendar: December

December sees the shortest day of the year, but it certainly isn’t short on wildlife to discover wherever you are this month!

Murmurations

Have you ever wondered why starlings murmurate? It is believed that they gather into large groups to achieve safety in numbers, surveying the area before they settle to roost for the night. This mass movement of birds makes for a fantastic winter spectacle, so keep your eyes to the skies as the sun begins to set.

Jackdaw Corvus monedula, close up of adult, Bushy Park, London

Flocking together

Jackdaws are also well-known for gathering in large flocks. At dusk, they swirl over our towns and villages as they head to a roost in a nearby copse or woodland. They can be pretty vocal, making quite a racket as they prepare to settle down for the night!

 

Less is known about these roosts, but it’s thought that there’s a large social element, as well as having safety in numbers.

Pied wagtail Motacilla alba, adult birds collectively roosting in a tree, Cambridgeshire

It’s not just starlings that gather to roost together. Pied wagtails also come together at night, which may be a surprise given that they are usually seen singly by day.

 

Trees and hedgerows in town centres and carparks are among the most popular roost sites for these charming little birds, as they are often warmer than the remote countryside, and they can gather here in their hundreds.

Top 5 reserves to visit this month...

Want to see a murmuration in action? Why not pay a visit to one of our nature reserves this December. 

A murmuration of starlings above the sea, as the sun sets.
Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus, adult perched in tree ready to feast on the berries, Bedfordshire

Waxings

Winter can bring with it some unusual species...


Waxwings are very partial to ornamental sorbus trees in urban areas as these often hold onto their berries well into the winter. It’s hard to predict if we’ll see a large arrival of these Scandinavian berry munchers but this is the month they could arrive on mass.

Supermarket car parks can often be hotspots too, so keep an eye on your next shopping trip. 

Black redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, adult male perched on fence, Bedfordshire

Black redstart

Another rarer species to look out for is the black redstart. These small, robin-sized birds are well adapted to urban spaces, and tend to spend winter in built-up and industrial areas where they actively search for insects.

Look out for a sooty grey body with a contrasting red tail, which they often vibrate and flick when perched.

We’d love to hear if you see one!

Grey heron Ardea cinerea, adult collecting nesting material, Regents Park, London

Early nesters

Grey herons are one of our earliest nesting species and will lay their eggs next month, meaning their huge nests will need a lot of attention in the meantime. Look out for herons hunting for sticks as well as fish.

 

Persistent rooks will also begin preparing their nests in ready for the spring, as the early birds get... not the worm, but the best nesting spot! It’s risky business as a winter storm may ruin their efforts but getting the prime location is important if you're hoping for a successful breeding season.

Mistle thrush singing

Winter isn't always associated with bird song, but the mistle thrush continues to sing throughout the colder months. Although they no longer have nests to defend, they will be guarding their food supplies when natural resources become less abundant.

 

They are also among the first birds to begin calling for a mate as the next breeding season approaches, so keep an ear (and an eye) out for them in January!