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How to see some starling superstars!

Last modified: 08 December 2014

Large flock of starlings congregating at dusk

Image: David Kjaer

We can’t get enough of our sensational starlings. With winter on the way many of us are excited to see these stunning birds flock together in their thousands to form patterns in the sky.

These striking formations are called murmurations and can involve up to 110,000 starlings in one go. That’s a massive flurry of feathers!

The birds flock together in large numbers during the autumn and winter after they migrate to the UK from Scandinavia. Scientists have their theories about murmurations – such as them being used by the birds to exchange information on where the best feeding grounds are, as well as providing warmth and safety in numbers – but they still have us pondering and are a bit of a mystery to us all.

Here are our handy tips for making the most of starling season up north.

Always take the weather with you

You won’t catch starlings battling any blustery breezes. These birds prefer calm weather for  their hypnotic displays. Check the forecast before you leave the house and cross your fingers for clear skies.

Know the area

Starlings flock together to stay warm as the evenings draw in, before going to roost for the night. Their favourite spots include cliffs, reedbeds (like the one at Leighton Moss) and industrial structures (as at Saltholme). This can be up to 20 miles away from where they feed. Look online, ask around – do your research to scope out the best areas.

Get those gloves out

The best time to see a starling murmuration is about half an hour before sunset in late November and early December. This means it’s best to wrap up warm as things can get chilly pretty quickly. Brrrrrr.

Don’t give up!

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Wildlife doesn’t always stick to the schedule, so if you’re unlucky first time around, don’t fret. Pack a Thermos and make another date with nature the next night.

Top sightings spots

RSPB Leighton Moss nature reserve in Silverdale, Lancashire is a fantastic place to see this phenomenon with thousands of birds swooping and diving over the reeds.

Another fabulous site is RSPB Saltholme in Teesside. Watch the starlings twist and turn as they steer clear of the peregrines.

Starlings were one of the top sightings on the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2014, being the third most common bird seen across the UK.

But just because it’s not a rarity doesn’t mean it’s not a beauty. These birds have gorgeous iridescent feathers making them seem green, blue, black and even purple! Their calls are long questioning notes and can sound quite eerie on a chilly winter’s morning.

A new survey from the Society of Biology is asking people to map where they see their murmurations so maybe soon we’ll know more about why they make their patterns in the sky - 

Look out for these dazzling displays near you!

By Jennifer Lane

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