One of nature’s most spectacular shows
A starling murmuration near Gretna in Scotland
Toward the end of fall, typically at sunset, huge flocks of starlings take to the skies to check out who’s who, what’s what, and where the best food is likely to be tomorrow.
The result, known as a murmuration, is one of nature’s most spectacular shows. This view of it was captured by Sophie Windsor Clive and her friends in Ireland:
The story behind these murmurations is that thousands of starlings at a time are checking each other out to see who know where the best food is. First, they’re looking to see who, in the flock, are the biggest, fattest, healthiest-looking birds – the ones who clearly have located the best food supply in the region. And then they’re jockeying for position in order to stay close to those birds. At the same time, they’re all staying close together to make life difficult for predators.
The result is this amazing, ever-changing cloud of expert aviators.
During the day, the flocks disperse into smaller foraging groups, but then, in the evening, they all come together for another exercise in seeing who knows what and where to go tomorrow.
Starlings used to be native to Europe. But in 1890, an American literary eccentric, Eugene Schieffelin, decided to introduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare to the United States. He released 60 starlings in Central Park, and the birds grew into large flocks, crossing the entire country. Farmers consider them an invasive species, since their acidic droppings can damage the cattle feed. (Then again, farmers and their cattle are probably the most invasive species of all!)
But the murmurations in Europe are still the biggest. Here’s another one with a commentary by an expert from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.