A Murmuration of Starlings

Star­lings are not the favorite bird of many bird­ers, and I was not par­tic­u­lar­ly fond of them. Despite their green­ish tinged speck­led black coats they are not well liked because they have mul­ti­plied fast and dri­ven out many oth­er small­er bird species.

Four StarlingsBrought to Cen­tral Park in New york City, in the late 1800’s by a man who want­ed to bring all the birds men­tioned in Shakespeare’s works to the US., the Star­lings pro­ceed­ed to expand out­ward in ever increas­ing waves.  Now they are spread over most of the US where they mer­ri­ly go on expand­ing. So I was quite sur­prised to find quite anoth­er side to the Star­lings — they can pro­duce some spec­tac­u­lar­ly chore­o­graphed winged dance move­ments.

One after­noon I was at one of my favorite sites, look­ing for Har­ri­ers when I noticed an accu­mu­la­tion of birds, Star­lings, fes­toon­ing the lines on a near­by pow­er pole

Starlings on a power line They were packed in so tight­ly that I thought they would push each oth­er off the perch.

Starlings on a power poleWon­der­ing what that was all about, I went on to where I thought the Har­ri­ers might be and perched on my Walk­stool with my cam­era in my lap.  Behind me was a vine­yard, its green leaves already assum­ing the vibrant col­ors of autumn.
Grad­u­al­ly I became aware of a faint, low-pitched mur­mur­ing sound behind me, and then with­out warn­ing, a sub­tle pres­sure pushed against my back. Star­tled I turned into a rush of hun­dreds of silent birds – the Star­lings – fly­ing through the vine­yard behind me on mur­mur­ing wings. I bare­ly man­aged to cap­ture a sin­gle usable image before they were off in a great cloud sink­ing down between the rows.

A rush of StarlingsAban­don­ing my inter­est in the Har­ri­ers for the moment I turned to see that the Star­lings had formed a huge cloud. Unfor­tu­nate­ly I had only my long tele­pho­to lens with me  – my oth­er lens­es were in my car – so I was only able to cap­ture a part of the cloud.

Starlings in a murmurAs I watched the cloud began to move and weave about.

Starling murmurations

And then come back to rest on the pow­er lines again.

Starlings on a power lineFinal­ly, after a time, the flock rose and joined with oth­er flocks to begin weav­ing an exquis­ite aer­i­al dance.

Mur­mu­ra­tions I

I was awestruck. I had seen videos of Star­ling Mumu­ra­tions on Eng­land but nev­er expect­ed to see them on the West coast of the U.S.

I can­not say that I whole­heart­ed­ly embrace the Star­lings and their pres­ence in the U.S. but I can cer­tain­ly see why they attract­ed Shakespeare’s atten­tion.  Some­time I am going to look up which of his plays they were in and what he had to say about them.

But per­haps one of you know??

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4 Responses to A Murmuration of Starlings

  1. Allen Fish says:

    Hi Richard — great star­ling flock­ing pho­tos — I noticed in the sec­ond flock pho­to that has the long “thumb” of star­lings there is a rap­tor at the thumb’s tip, no doubt the rea­son for the edgy flock­ing of the star­lings. From first glance it appears to be a small Pere­grine, but if I can blow it up fur­ther I’ll give you a sec­ond opin­ion.

    • admin says:

      Hi Allen,
      Actu­al­ly I think it may be a Har­ri­er because I saw two fly­ing in that vicin­i­ty that after­noon about the time the Star­lings per­formed. Don’t recall ever see­ing a Pere­grine in that area. But, you may be right.

  2. Beau­ti­ful pho­tos. We have mur­mu­ra­tions of grack­les here in south-cen­tral Texas in win­ter. Swirling flights and then dis­per­sal to wires. Most folks view them as pests also, but you’re right that there is a beau­ty.

  3. Corona says:

    Bril­liant. Now I will be more tol­er­ant when I see them monop­o­lis­ing the bird feed­er in our back gar­den! I didn’t know about Shake­speare and the Star­lings but try Hen­ry 1v. part 1.

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