Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Murmuration of Joy

published in the South Shore Breaker - November 30, 2016
I joined a few friends for a meal at a local restaurant a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn't a very good dinner companion.

I was seated at a table facing a window overlooking the river. Shortly after I sat down, a huge flock of birds swooped by. I immediately became distracted from the conversation around the table and blinked in amazement. I was informed that the birds were starlings, and put on this performance every evening at dusk. 
taken through the window of the River Pub
If you know me, you know I often have a camera with me. The door to the deck was locked, so I had to be content taking pictures through the window with my point and shoot camera. Not ideal, but it was enough to satisfy my inner photographer. After a few minutes, the birds were gone and I could get back to being sociable. One of the good thing about friends is that they tolerate your little idiosyncrasies.

The next day I decided it was time to learn a bit about starlings. They appear black when you see them performing their aerial ballet, but close up their feathers are a beautiful glossy green and purple iridescent colours. In the winter they are duller with white spots.

Despite their beauty, many town and city people, as well as farmers, consider them pests. Town people don't like them because they gather in such large noisy numbers and are a nuisance. Large flocks of starlings can be beneficial to agriculture by controlling pests, however they themselves can be considered pests when they feed on crops. Some farms try to manage populations with noise and visual deterrents. Many cities try to deal with the noise and mess nuisance by culling, with limited success. Although some city populations can number into the millions, the numbers in some areas have declined quite drastically and there is a range of classification by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, depending on the location. 

The performance I watched while eating out with my friends is a nightly routine for the starlings in colder months. They gather in large flocks called murmurations just before the sun goes down, and then perform an amazing aerial dance of graceful winging and soaring across the sky before they swoop into their roosting spot. Perhaps their change in behaviour in the colder months are the reason that some people believe they are messengers from the spirit realms, a reminder that changes in situations are coming. They signal the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one.
the starlings gathered in the trees before starting their aerial display
So, you might guess where my interest in starlings took me. I went out the next day just before dusk with my "good" camera and planted myself on the bridge to wait for the entertainment. My anticipation grew as I saw the starlings gathering in the trees on the hill. A few small groups would rise out of the trees and circle around and back. Some stayed, some flew. Maybe they took turns. Then the whole group started to lift off. Around and around they went, swooping and soaring. I could hear them calling to each other and could even hear their wings beating over the sounds of the traffic. It was exhilarating and mesmerizing, and utterly beautiful to watch. As I snapped my shutter and did a private dance in my head, the traffic continued to flow, oblivious to my joy.
the take off
I tend to get a little obsessive about new to me photographic subjects and I went back yet again the next night and chose a different perspective, down on the river bank. This time I brought my husband with me and his enthusiasm was of a more practical nature. Instead of romantic visions of soaring with the starlings like me, he wondered about scientific questions and practical thoughts. I just clicked and let my spirits fly. The moon was cooperating that evening. Just days before the super moon, it was near to full and set a glorious background for the starlings in flight.
a few days before the Super Moon
When we moved from the county into town a year ago, one of my fears was that I would lose touch with nature. But isn't it lovely to know that a quick glance out a window can lead to such a wonderful experience? A flock of birds have things to teach us if we're willing to take the time and listen and learn. You don't have to go to the riverbank at dusk. If you have access to a computer, I recommend that you visit and do a search for "starling murmurations". You'll be awed and amazed by some of the videos you can find.
Bridgewater has just a small murmuration - check YouTube for some spectacular displays
According to Animal Spirit Totems, starlings provide us lessons of group etiquette and how we appear to the world in relationships. Seeing a starling tells us that it's time to speak our voice. They teach us about sensitivity to others and working with unity, instilling a sense of protection and hope. That's truly something inspiring to focus on.


  1. WOW! Absolutely spectacular! I've seen large flocks of birds, but never anything like this. I love your enthusiasm for the starlings :-)

  2. OH these photos are lovely.

    Did you know that there are now over 200 million starlings in North America. They are all descended from 100 starlings released in Central Park in New York in 1890-91. BTW the fella that introduced them also introduced the House Sparrow. Both species have done very well at the expense of native species.

    My gawd I do go on ...


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