A starling murmuration is an astonishing vision. Mostly seen as the sun is setting, there can be millions of birds swirling around the sky at once.
But it’s a phenomenon which we actually know little about.
If scientists wish to study them they usually go to sites where they know they are likely to occur like Brighton Pier, but they can happen anywhere.
In towns, cities and in the countryside, they sometimes last over an hour or more.
The murmuration season starts in late autumn right through the winter and is helped by increased Starling numbers, with migrating birds arriving in the UK from Scandinavia. The total Starling population, however, is unfortunately in decline in Europe, and in the UK there has been an 80 per cent decrease between 1987 – 2012, due to lack of food, reduction in habitat, and climate change.
Starlings murmurate for many reasons, mostly as there is safety in numbers, but they also do it to keep warm at night and to share information.
Birds flying in a formation isn’t anything new as ducks and geese, fly in flocks and often arrange themselves in the form of a ‘V’ shape.
By doing this they are taking advantage of changing wind patterns allowing them to use air in the most efficient way – similar to the aerodynamic shape of a car or aeroplane or, the same way cyclists do in a velodrome.
During migration, these formations can help birds to fly a longer distance without rest, which is crucial during a long flight.
Birds that flock together are easily explained – they just copy the actions of their closest neighbour.