Print page

Where are London's starling spectaculars?

Last modified: 18 November 2010

Starling roost at dusk

Murmurations form awesome shapes and illusions each evening in autumn

There are dark clouds forming over the UK this autumn. But thankfully rather than meaning something foreboding they form part of one of the UK’s most incredible wildlife spectacles.

Hundreds of thousands of starlings will turn the sky black around the UK, as they come together in huge clouds, wheeling and swooping in unison. The jaw-dropping wildlife exhibition, known as a ‘murmuration’ can be seen on many of the RSPB’s nature reserves and other sites, but no longer in London.

The Capital used to have its own starling shows, but the huge numbers of birds that used to call Greater London "home" have now moved away.  RSPB London is asking for sightings of large clouds of starlings within the M25. Starlings were once so common in London, that the sheer weight of them perched on the arm of Big Ben stopped the famous clock in its tracks.

The huge gatherings are at their largest in winter, as they are boosted by thousands of migrant birds visiting from the European continent for Britain's milder Atlantic climate. They join forces for safety in numbers in case of predators and to keep warm at night. They also exchange information, such as good feeding areas. They often feed miles away from where they roost and return each evening.  On many sites you can almost set your watch by their arrival.

But despite the incredible size of the flocks, these numbers are just a fraction of what they used to be. Crashes in the starling population of over 70% in recent years mean they are now on the critical list of UK birds most at risk. Despite this, they remain the second most common bird found in London's Gardens, according to the 2010 Big Garden Birdwatch. 

The decline is believed to be because of loss of permanent pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and a shortage of food and nesting sites in many parts of the UK. The expansion of London pushed suitable permanent pasture away from the centre, reducing starling numbers in the Capital.

Johann Holt, RSPB Visitor Services Adviser says: “The starling roost is one of the most incredible natural spectacles we enjoy here in the UK and they are so easy to see. The RSPB is very honored that the flocks choose so many of its reserves for nighttime shelter, but many roost near well known tourist destinations like Brighton Pier too. In many cases, they are like clockwork. You know that at a certain time in the evening the sky will start to turn black and its mesmerizing watching the flock grow and grow.”

There's a growing flock of between 8,000 to 10,000  starlings at RSPB Rainham Marshes, a short train journey from London's Fenchurch Street station to Purfleet. With the dark winter nights, the reserve shuts at 4.30 pm

How you can help

Help us continue our conservation work