Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Starling roost, Plumstone

Starlings 27 Dec 09 - the dot above the trees, left of the starlings, is a Hen Harrier

Near my house in Wales is a starling roost. As many as three million birds return each winter's evening, many of them travelling more than thirty miles to rest overnight in a copse of fir trees on the south side of Plumstone mountain. The squadrons arrive in waves, forming dense clouds that swirl and twist above the trees - not dissimilar to those Attenborough films of fish balling and coiling in defence against dolphins.It is breathtaking to watch.

But why do they do this? Some say it is for security. Other say for warmth, or to pass on knowledge of feeding grounds. Yet none of these explanations seems sufficient. Why travel so far and expend so much energy? Why gather in such a large group, only to leave as individual squadrons at dawn? And why run the gauntlet of the raptors, waiting patiently on the telegraph poles or soaring above the trees. They picking off the stragglers, or, as last night, dive bomb the group and randomly strike for prey.

We can hypothesise over their reasons but, in truth, we do not know. Perhaps they simply have an instinct to return; like salmon returning to spawn and butterflies migrating across continents. Or like me, returning to Wales - seeking a sanctuary that is always worth the effort, logical or not.


  1. Are you sure there are 3 million? I heard one flock went on strike. Seriously though, truly an amazing sight to behold. Perhaps they just do it for our pleasure?

  2. Although we see the flocks heading for the town in the late afternoon, we have only had them close once. They arrived and kept on arriving. The ground, the hedges, the trees were black with birds squeezing close together.
    Like a fool, i tried to take a photograph and disturbed them...the whole flock rose together, flew up in a great cloud and then turned, as one, heading off. The sound as they turned was like a sonic boom.

    I so deeply regret that my movement disturbed them.

  3. Aren't they extraordinary? Wonderful post, thank you for the reminder. I have not seen them this year.

  4. Sometimes the traumas one endures to return home make that home more attractive...

  5. They are Welsh (I asked a question on another blog of yours).
    We don't have many here.