Some may say that it is too early to be watching Christmas classics such as The Nutcracker, but there’s another ballet on display this season – a bird ballet of starling murmurations!
What is a starling murmuration?
A murmuration is when hundreds or even thousands of starlings come together in a breath-taking improvised aerial dance. They swoop, ascend, dive, and lift in a cloud of orchestrated patterns that once led scientists to theorise that starlings must have physic powers.
Why do starlings murmurate?
We think that starlings murmurate for a number of reasons, namely warmth, information exchange, and safety. In the autumn and winter starlings huddle together at night to share body heat and tips about where to find food - but to a predator, thousands of starlings swooping in to land looks very much like a carousel buffet.
Starlings seek refuge in numbers, gathering in these swirling ballets to confuse predators much like a shoal of fish. It’s much harder to target one bird in the middle of a hypnotising flock of thousands.
When to go see them?
Autumn roosts generally start to form in November, though this varies from site-to-site and more starlings tend to gather as the weeks go by. The murmurations often go on into January or February, so there’s a nice open window of time for you to see one!
It’s best to be at the location a bit before dusk – that’s when the starlings will start to gather for the night and you’ll start to see a murmuration forming.
Where can you see them?
Autumn roosts generally start to form in November, though this varies from site-to-site and more starlings tend to gather as the weeks go by.
To see some for yourself, check out these RSPB reserves! As with any nature spectacle nothing is guaranteed, but if you keep an eye on twitter and websites such as starlingsintheuk.co.uk for the latest sightings, you’ll have the best chance of seeing these seasonal bird dance.
How to help starlings on your own doorstep
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 starling numbers have fallen by more than 80 per cent in recent years and they are now on the red list of UK birds. This is due to a whole host of reasons including harmful farm chemicals, a decline in nesting sites, and loss of habitat all across the UK.
You can do lots to help your local starlings, however, right in your own local space! They need food, water, and shelter, so here are some ideas to help your local starlings. For more inspiration, please visit Nature on Your Doorstep:
- Food - you can put out bird feeders, plant greenery that produces fruit or attracts invertebrates for starlings to eat, or if you’ve got a bit more space even create log piles or bug hotels which will become thriving homes for creepy-crawlies.
- Water – an upcycled mini pond or bird bath will slake starlings’ thirst, as well as giving them a handy bathing spot when their feathers need cleaning.
- Shelter - a nestbox is a great way to give them somewhere to huddle in cold weather, and they might even use the same nestbox in spring to raise their chicks. Planting trees is also a big help and gives starlings and other birds a place to shelter from the winds.
Who knows, with enough encouragement you might have a mini-bird ballet of your own in a few years!