Starlings are small to medium-size birds that have short tails, pointed heads and glossy black feathers with purple and green streaks. Individually, they look like any other cute little bird flying around looking for food. It’s when they come together in a murmuration that something magical happens. 

A murmuration of starlings happens when large groups, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of these mysterious birds, gather at their preferred roost each evening during the winter. A roost is where they will rest as a group for the night. It is usually somewhere safe like a lake reedbed, a wooded area or even an abandoned pier. 

Before they settle down for the night, they take off altogether in full flight to perform what looks like a spectacular choreographed dance routine in the sky. They don’t simply fly in a flock, they twist, turn, swoop, duck and dive all the same time, in the same direction. Then, they suddenly change direction, several times, without crashing into each other. What they create is a mesmerising display of swirling, pulsating, ballooning, contracting shapes like flowing clouds across the evening sky. It is truly a mesmerising and breath-taking sight.

Experts aren’t exactly sure why starlings murmurate. It was thought that they had some sort of ‘in-built’ way of knowing when the others were going to move. More recently, scientists say each starling copies the behaviour of the seven starlings closest to it, so when they move, it moves and so it continues until the entire group moves as one.

Another theory is that starlings murmurate to protect themselves from predators like hawks or falcons by confusing them and to decrease the chance of an individual bird being attacked.

Another theory is simply body heat. It is thought that a murmuration can attract other starlings in the area to one central roosting site – the more starlings that congregate together creates a warmer roosting spot.

Scientists have also proposed starlings come together to get a general idea about which ones are feeding well, and they can use this information to source food. 

However, there is no definite theory to accurately explain the wonder and magnificence of a starling murmuration. Some say that starlings murmurate for the sheer joy of it, which, is as good a reason as any.

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