Starling murmurations are one of the most spectacular wildlife sights that we enjoy in this country. If you ever get to see this awe-inspiring event jump at the chance.
Being less than an hours drive away I often visit Minsmere as I have a real passion for wildlife. My latest foray was actually to the neighbouring village of Eastridge. A glossy ibis had been very cooperative in feeding close to the road. This is a beautiful and rare visitor that really needs a sunny day to show off its wonderful glossy plumage. Although the weather performed well the ibis was always a touch too distant for a really top notch photograph. Annoyingly it also displayed an uncanny skill at putting plenty of vegetation between itself and my viewfinder. It became a wait and hope scenario.
Being close to the popular Eels Foot Inn there was a regular stream of visitors enquiring about what I was watching. One of the other bird watchers told me about the starlings the previous evening. After waiting in vain for the ibis to venture a little closer I decided to go to the reserve at Minsmere and see the starlings for myself.
Although I have seen murmurations before I have to say that, on this occasion, I was absolutely blown away. They numbered around 40,000 and appeared very suddenly from the west rather than the more gradual build up that I had witnessed before.
Of course I hadn’t packed a wide-angled lens and had to rely on my hand held mobile for recording. The actual spectacle however is mesmerising. The presence of a peregrine falcon, barn owl and marsh harriers only added to the constantly changing patterns of the flock. It reminded me of the spell binding views of the Aurora borealis I had seen previously in the arctic. It was like a living firework display.
Occasionally the flock flew right over the crowd and all you could see. and hear, were starlings. It appeared as if I had been transported into a strange underwater world with a vast shoal of fish dashing over the top of me. Even so I just wasn’t expecting the finale to be so dramatic. The whole flock dropped into the reed bed right in front of the crowd that had gathered along the North Wall of the reserve. Unfortunately by this time my phone had run out of storage.
It was inevitable that I should try again the following night. This time I was accompanied by my wife, Janet. There is a strange bewitching feeling that makes parents want to bring along their partners and children to share in this emotional experience.
To cut a long story short the second night I came more prepared with a suitable lens and a stout tripod. The resulting video is shown above. I had an unbelievable response from the video as soon as I had posted it on Twitter. The interest and kind comments inspired me to try and find out a bit more about starling murmurations.
Why Do Starling Murmurations Exist?
It seems that whilst we know quite a bit about when this occurs, in winter around sunset, we know very little about how or why. It certainly seems to be related to the threat of predation. Many species like to gather in huge concentrations to try and confuse their hunters. In spite of attracting harriers, hawks, owls and falcons the chances of any one individual actually succumbing must be considerably reduced by the sheer weight of numbers.
Exactly how the birds do not crash into each other is thought to be related to their ability to communicate instantaneously with their immediate neighbours. There are no leaders as such making the key decisions. Rather the flock operates as a whole entity. It has also been suggested that they come together in communal roosts to share information about good feeding areas.
Starlings are one of our most common garden birds with nearly 2 million breeding pairs in the country. The populations expands over the winter months from birds migrating from Europe. Notwithstanding these numbers the species has shown a dramatic 60% decline over the last 50 years. Like the house sparrow, starlings are now on the Red List of species that are of the highest conservational priority.
Where to See Starling Murmurations.
I have compiled a table of some of the more predictable sites where you have the best chance of seeing this event. Optimal viewing positions will vary form one night to another so I would recommend contacting the local reserve managers for up-to-date information.
|Suffolk||RSPB Minsmere||Reed Bed||40,000||Tel: 01728 648281|
|Derbyshire||Middleton Moor||Reed Bed||100,000|
|East Sussex||Brighton||West Pier or town|
|Dumfriesshire||Gretna Green||urban||1 miillion|
|Somerset||Ham Wall||Reed Bed||Tel: 07866 554142|
|Cambridgeshire||Fen Drayton||Reed Bed||Tel: 01954 233260|
|North Wales||RSPB Malltraeth Marsh||Reed Bed||350,000|
|Lancashire||Leighton Moss||Reed Bed||120,000||Tel: 01524 701601|
|Belfast||Belfast||Urban, Albert & Queens bridges||30,000|
|North Yorkshire||Saltholme||Reed Bed||20,000||Tel: 01642 546625|
|Somerset||Shapwick Heath NNR||1 - 6 million||Tel: 07866 554142|
|South Wales||Newport Wetlands||Reed Bed||100,000||Tel: 01633 636363|
|Suffolk||Felixstowe||Urban - Morrisons|
Read more about Minsmere’s incredible wildlife
If you would like to find out more the following links are recommended.
RSPB Minsmere – RSPB’s flagship reserve in Suffolk
Starlings in the UK – maintain a map of starling murmurations