A Murmuration of Starlings

What a wonderful word murmuration is. And what a spectacular sight it is to stand below a murmuration of starlings in the last hour or so before dusk, as their band of shadows writhes its way across the sky in perfect precision.

We are incredibly lucky to be witness to this spectacle most days here, as the starlings gather, and their burgeoning collective sweeps from tree to tree, barn roof to barn roof: no bird wanting to be the first to land, the last to land, on the outside edge of the group…

The noise of such a large group of birds is also rather startling – and not just as they chatter in the treetops. One afternoon last week, as the birds gathered mass about us, they suddenly plummeted like a black sheet from their temporary roost in the tree that stands across from our house, onto the grass below.

Every few seconds, the line of birds on the leftmost edge of the group would lift their wings and skate over their neighbours to land a few feet further in, leaving others on the outer edge. With each such progression there was a mighty whoomp sound from the collective of wings so briefly employed in unison. Amazing.

I hastily snatched these pictures from a bedroom window one afternoon last week, but they don’t quite do justice to the majesty of this phenomenon. Must try harder!

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9 thoughts on “A Murmuration of Starlings

  1. Yes, a lovely word “Murmuration”, but very alliterative – Starlings en masse do murmur. Must go out now and feed my Convocation of Larks… What’s the collective noun for Magpies? A “Surfeit” maybe? I have far too many, and they are too noisy and aggressive for my liking.

    • The noise of their “murmur” is incredibly loud when the group is large – and the shadow they cast is rather dramatic too! Friends staying at New Year made several references to Hitchcock’s “The Birds” when we went out walking…
      Collective nouns are such a wonderful part of our language aren’t they? A murder of magpies, rather chillingly, I think? There are less dramatic alternatives too. I’m not a huge fan of magpies either, with their penetrating gaze they could well have murder in mind!

  2. Ah what a sight and sound. Love the way you wrote this, Sara, and even your hasty images do it justice. Alas starlings have left London en masse and now seeing a small flock is a startling sight.

    • Thanks Laura – once again we are rather lucky with our location. It wasn’t a sight I had ever experienced before we came here, glad to see that there are still so many starlings seeking refuge here through the winter. The precision and elegance of their flight are stunning magnified on such a large scale.

  3. Thank you for your murmurations post, it is a great word and murmurations.com is apparently available! could it be an ornithologists version of twitter, I mean as twitter is already taken.

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