Those who are lucky enough to witness a starling murmuration know exactly how transfixing and hypnotic it can be to be in the presence of such a magical natural phenomenon.
A starling is a small to medium-sized bird that has a short tail, pointed head, and glossy black feathers with hints of purple and green. When huge flocks of starlings fly together in the sky, they can create a “murmuration,” which is when the birds begin to twist and turn as though they were one creature, making a number of different shapes and forms.
The mechanics behind this transfixing sky show are still a mystery to experts, however, it is believed that a murmuration forms when one starling begins to copy the behavior of its seven neighbors, and then those seven starlings being copying seven of their own neighbors, until the entire group appears to be moving as one entity.
Why do starling murmurations form?
Perhaps the best comparison for a starling murmuration within the natural world is a school of fish that moves as one to avoid predators.
Starling murmurations are most commonly spotted at sundown because the birds often produce a synchronized cloud of movement over the location where they have decided to roost for the night. One primary hypothesis is that a murmuration can attract more starlings that are nearby, which is important for creating a warmer roosting spot, especially in the colder months.
Scientists also believe that starling murmurations are used to deter large predators from attacking, as moving as one will confuse the predator and decrease the individual risk each starling faces.
While these hypotheses have some credibility to them, the driving forces behind murmurations are still unclear to scientists and researchers.
When and where do starling murmurations occur?
Starling murmurations happen most often in the UK, but the starling population has grown significantly in the US since they were introduced into the country in the late 1800s.
Currently, there are an estimated 150 million starlings in the US.
If you want to spot a starling murmuration, your best chance would be at sundown before they settle to roost.