You don’t have to be a birdwatcher to be absolutely mesmerised by the natural wonder of a murmuration. What’s that you ask? It’s when a flock of starlings — often numbering into the hundreds of thousands — come together in enormous clouds, swooping, ducking, diving and dancing in unison. These beautiful aerobatics are a truly spectacular sight and one of nature’s secrets that even scientists can’t explain.
Sure they know a few reasons why they might do it. There’s safety in numbers and it keeps them warm. But they can’t understand how these tiny creatures perform such stunning aerial formations with so much accuracy and grace. Penny Stallings, ecology.com’s species curator, describes it as “an aerial ballet performed with an amazing synchronicity as the tiny birds move like one huge shape-shifting organism”.
So when and where can you see them? Starlings tend to roost anywhere from woodlands to reedbeds, cliffs, buildings and even industrial structures. We spotted this murmuration over Newport Wetlands in South Wales. It started small and more and more flocks kept joining, until we had tens of thousands of birds flying right above our heads. This is one of those moments that is just so beautiful you have to hold your breath. The birds were surprisingly calm and silent, until they changed direction, emitting an awesome swooping noise. Very humbling.
November is a great time for spotting murmurations. The starlings start gathering at dusk, and according to RSPB’s (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Johann Holt, the birds are like clockwork, always arriving at the same place at the same time. We’d arrived at the wetlands around 3pm and wandered around for a bit looking for birds. Just as the sky started darkening and we thought we weren’t going to see anything, thousands of birds started flocking in. Time kind of stands still when you’re watching something like this, but we must have been watching these stunning formations for at least 20 minutes. What a show!
While you have a good chance of spotting murmurations in November, some start as early as September. And as the weeks go on, numbers can really start to swell, peaking in winter as the starlings are joined by thousands of European migrant birds taking advantage of Britain’s milder Atlantic climate.
If you’re desperate to see more awesome videos of murmurations, check out our YouTube channel.