Last Sunday, as I walked around Wicken Fen nature reserve, I came across one of the UK’s greatest wildlife spectacles: a starling murmuration.
Groups of birds began to gather in the distance. Gradually, the separate flocks seamlessly united into a huge swarm – and began to perform a mesmerising ballet, whirling and diving over the fields. This massive “super-being” shape-shifted in unpredictable formations – as hundreds of birds twisted and turned in the sky in perfect unison. As the flock flew over my head, I was simultaneously enchanted by the quiet flutter of hundreds of beating wings and overwhelmed by the sheer power of this breathtaking swarm.
All sorts of questions came to mind: Why do they do this? How do they do this? How do they not bump into each other? Why would they make it so beautiful?
There are many possible biological reasons why starlings might perform this behaviour:
- Grouping together offers safety in numbers – predators such as peregrine falcons find it hard to target one bird in the middle of a huge flock.
- They gather to keep warm at night and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas.
- They gather over their roosting site before they roost for the night.
Whatever the explanation for this incredible sight, I was left staring in absolute child-like wonder. One of my favourite quotes came to mind: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious” (Albert Einstein).
What is the most mysterious, awe-inspiring natural spectacle you have experienced? Have you ever watched a starling murmuration? I would love to hear your comments, thoughts, experiences here – or contact me directly!
Thanks to my friend David for the video below – taken on Sunday on our walk.
There are many places you can watch starling murmurations at this time of year. They are often found at twilight – around agricultural land, woodland, reedbeds, cliffs, buildings and industrial structures. Find out where your closest starling roost may be and get out there to see it! I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed.