It’s that time of year again; the nights are drawing in, there’s a real chill in the air and the starlings are starting to display. A medium-sized songbird, starlings are well known for their spectacular flock display that they undertake in the autumn and winter. Flocks can number up to 100,000 birds, and murmurations are made up of these agile birds flying in close coordination at high speed.
There are several theories why starlings dance in flocks like this. It might help individuals avoid being predated, as the display creates a confusing vision that could bewilder a bird of prey, such as a peregrine falcon, looking for a meal. It may be to do with keeping warm, or it may be a way of sharing information within the flock. As one bird starts towards a good roosting site, the whole flock follows, and as they roost together, this idea could work. It may be one of these reasons, or a combination of all three, or there may be some other explanation that we haven’t yet come up with!
One thing that I cannot doubt is that it must feel amazing to fly as part of a flock like that, whether the starlings feel such emotions is under debate, but for me there’s nothing like watching a murmuration while the light is fading.
New research is being undertaken into starling’s murmurations, and the scientists behind it want you to take part! If you see a murmuration, take note of the time and location and head along to the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/starlings to input your results. The aim is to find out the when and the where so that the scientists can figure out the why. Research like this can help the species weather any changes that the future may bring.
Heather Beaton – Scottish Wildlife Trust Volunteer