Startling starlings: birds of a feather flock together

Donal O’Regan

Reporter:

Donal O’Regan

THE SUN has been blocked by clouds for the last year, but now even birds are stopping sunshine in the Limerick sky.

THE SUN has been blocked by clouds for the last year, but now even birds are stopping sunshine in the Limerick sky.

Local Birdwatch members witnessed, and one photographed, a murmuration of starlings on the Croom to Ballingarry road looking towards Knockfierna.

Maura Turner, of Birdwatch Limerick, said “spellbound” sums up the reaction to seeing 100,000 to 120,000 starlings performing their dazzling aerial display.

While the murmuration is not as rare as one might think it only happens in specific areas and at dusk - prior to roosting as one large group.

“Flocks of resident and mainly migratory starlings come from as far as 20 miles to fly up, around, swish backwards and forwards - all in unison.

“Some few thousand may break away for a moment and then as suddenly swoosh back into the group. The sight is constantly changing from a pale grey, to dark grey to black where they converge. Fifty shades of grey come to mind. None of the starlings ever crash into each other,” said Ms Turner.

The 20 in the party said it was like watching a swarm of locusts.

“The display lasted about 25 minutes. Then it stopped as suddenly as it started. The birds dropped into their chosen roost site as if being drawn towards a giant magnet,” said Ms Turner.

It is not known why starlings perform this dance in the sky. Some experts claim it is a show of strength - safety in numbers.

“If any predators are around like a peregrine falcon they would have a hard job keeping up, never mind catching their prey. And a predator would probably feel like the birdwatchers - slightly hypnotised by their speed and by their constantly changing formations,” said Ms Turner.

The murmurations will last another 10 to 12 days but if interested in going to see it - wear headgear! For more see Limerick Birdwatch’s Facebook page.