Mixing murmurations

You’ve probably seen a murmuration before. You might not have known that’s what is was, but I’m sure you have seen one anyway.  It’s a term usually used to describe the antics of Starlings as they wheel around in large flocks just before going to roost/bed/sleep on a Winters evening.

A murmuration, at least it's a minor one..

I hadn’t given it much thought really. Amazing spectacle  – agreed. Surely though, it’s just a bunch of Starlings whizzing around making pretty patterns in the late afternoon sky?  Well, it seems maybe not that simple after all. For a start, it’s not just Starlings that murmurate.

Last winter, there was a murmuration of over 100,000 Starlings that spent each night in a bunch of trees at the rear of the Poole Speedway site. Not this year. This year they appear to have decided to do their onw thing.

I happened to return from a run yesterday at about 4pm.  As I warmed down, I noticed a large flock of Starlings wheeling around and eventually dropping into the Leylandii trees next door.  Today, I was ready for them – stood in the back garden, camera in hand.

What I didn’t expect was to see that the first birds to perform their murmuration sequence were in fact Goldfinches! 

First to land - Goldfinches

Maybe not quite as much of a spectacle, but they were certainly giving it a good go – several flocks flying around, joining up to a flock of about 80 and circling the gardens at rooftop height before suddenly plunging onto the Leylandii.  I say onto rather than into – because being Goldfinches they simply couldn’t resist a last few twitters from the tops before they descended to safety and to sleep.

Ok, just the one more song but then it's off to sleep like the rest..

Literally 1 minute later, at 1601hrs, there were 5 Starlings flying overhead, circling around.

The Famous Five, or the ones that turned up first.

2 laps later and it was 6 Starlings, they were then joined by another 4, then a small flock of about 20 appeared and joined.  Soon enough there were about 80 of them – flying in unison, the wind rushing through their feathers being clearly audible as they passed overhead.  Occasionally other birds had a go – I saw sparrows, blue tits and more goldfinches all join in briefly before giving up and taking to the trees.

I know - should have used a wide angle lens!

At their peak, I counted in excess of 150 birds.  Not a huge count, but still a great experience to stand and watch/listen to them wheeling around. One final surprise lay in store though.

They suddenly split into three distinct flocks, each wheeling around, occasionally joining back up then splitting out again.  Finally, within a minute of each other at 1624hrs, all three flocks dropped – all into different leylandii.  When I say dropped – it almost seems that’s how they do finally land. One second they are flying by, the next they are gone, having seemingly flown straight into the depths of their chosen tree at full tilt!

1624 hrs and the last of them pile into the far tree - literally!

I can see there is plenty more to be discovered about these murmurations. I knew Starlings did it of course, and I suppose pied wagtails also tend to roost in large colonies – but I’d never realised that finches also ‘murmurate’.   I’m also intrigued by the splitting of the flock.  Reedbed roosts all seem to dive into one particular area – so why do these birds split up and roost in different trees (one of which was about 100 yards away from the other trees)?

That’s Nature I suppose – you learn something new all the time, even when you aren’t looking for it!

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4 Responses to Mixing murmurations

  1. Jane says:

    Good to see that Leylandii are actually useful for something! Great spot with the Goldfinches.

  2. Chris Senior says:

    So you carry your camera even when running then Steve?

    What Jane said – at last, a use for Leylandii.

  3. Carole Davis says:

    Maybe they split up because there’s just not enough room in one for them all. Just a though!! Cxx

  4. I expect you’ve seen this little clip of a massive murmuration – but, in case not –
    http://planticrunotes.blogspot.com/2011/11/murmuration-of-starlings.html

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