The Dance of the Starlings

Travelling through West Lancashire late afternoon, I happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture one of the most beautiful and hypnotic sights in nature… a murmuration of starlings.

It’s not the first murmuration I’ve seen, but it’s possibly the largest. This isn’t surprising as I was on a country lane close to WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre, where some 50,000 starlings are currently roosting this autumn. It’s the largest number of starlings the Centre has ever seen.

The dance of the starlings begins around 4 pm, just before dusk, when the birds return to their roost. They give an aerial display that is enigmatic and unforgettable. This lasts for approximately 20 minutes before they land in the reed beds and settle for the night.

One is left wondering how and why. How do they fly together in vast numbers so flawlessly? Why do they do it? I love to think that they fly the way they do for pure joy, but there are possibly practical reasons, too. Flying and swooping as a flock might make it difficult for falcon predators to target one bird, and the energetic flight might help to generate warmth for the flock before their long night’s roost. But who knows for sure? The birds, no doubt.

Nature is full of magic and mystery, and this is just one of many marvels that is always a joy to see.