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Murmuration magic fills the winter sky

Last modified: 11 December 2014

Large flock of starlings congregating at dusk

A large flock of starlings congregating at dusk

Image: David Kjaer

Starling murmurations are set to darken the winter skies as a part of an incredible not-to-be missed wildlife spectacle, and according to the RSPB, it is peak time to see these dazzling displays.

Flocks of starlings, known as murmurations, are one of the UK’s most impressive winter highlights and have been labeled as nature’s answer to the Red Arrows. They can involve hundreds of thousands of starlings gathering noisily together at dusk before performing an extraordinary wheeling and swooping aerial ballet.

Richard James, RSPB wildlife expert, said: “Watching thousands of starlings sweeping across the sky in unison is one of nature’s unforgettable experiences. It starts with just a small group of birds before building into a swarming mass twisting and turning overhead, before plunging into their roosting spot to settle down for the night.

“They are very lively, chirpy birds, and surprisingly they are the same birds we see in our gardens each day. But to see a murmuration as dusk falls is a real treat.”

Each year the UK’s starling numbers are boosted by migrating arrivals from continental Europe to spend the winter months here. 

A spiralling decline in the starling population means they are now on the critical list of the UK birds most at risk, placing the future of this stunning airborne drama in doubt. The State of UK Birds report highlights the deterioration, showing that the number of breeding starlings has declined by 81% since 1970.

'Starlings put on a show like no other bird, but their decline in the UK has been alarming over the past 40 years'

Richard James added: “Starlings put on a show like no other bird, but their decline in the UK has been alarming over the past 40 years. The RSPB has been carrying out research into this but there are simple things that everyone can do to help starlings and other birds throughout winter.”

Like all birds in the cold winter months, starlings need a good source of high energy food and water. Making sure that your bird table is stocked up with seed, suet balls and nibbles gives birds a reliable food source throughout winter.

Starlings are just one of the many birds that you may spot visiting your garden during the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Taking place on 24-25 January the RSPB is asking people to take a closer look at the wildlife on your doorstep. To get involved, simply pick an hour over the weekend and tell us what you see.

Murmurations can be spotted on RSPB reserves up and down the country. The largest and most impressive have been witnessed on the Avalon Marshes at RSPB Ham Wall and at the Fen Drayton, and Leighton Moss reserves.

Sites can vary each year, but good sites that have been reported this year include:

  • Aberystwyth Pier, Mid Wales
  • Brighton Pier, Sussex
  • RSPB Ham Wall
  • RSPB Leighton Moss
  • RSPB Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire
  • RSPB Conwy, Conwy
  • RSPB Salthome, Teeside
  • RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk
  • RSPB Snape, Suffolk
  • Loch Leven NNR, Perth and Kinross
  • Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve, Warwickshire

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