This winter we have been privileged to watch a spectacular display of starlings over the town of Castle Douglas in south west Scotland every evening. Thousands of birds mass in the sky to perform the most breath-taking aerial ballet.
It seems starlings do this for several reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers as predators such as peregrine falcons are less able to target one bird to grab for dinner in the middle of thousands swooping and swerving. They gather to keep warm at night and they exchange information about good feeding sites.
At some point the decision is made and communicated to the entire murmuration and they swoop down to their chosen roost. It’s like a black waterfall pouring out of the darkening sky. Once settled the racket they make as they chitter chatter amongst themselves is astonishing.
What makes them choose a particular place, though, remains a mystery. For years we’ve had a small group which roosts in the monkey puzzle tree in the grounds of the library but we’ve never had such numbers before. For some years, Gretna boasted a large murmuration and last year they were at Kirkcudbright. This year, I’m so delighted it’s our turn – even if my poor car is under their flight path. And, if it’s true a bird pooping on you means good luck then I must be going to be incredibly lucky this year!
All over the town photographers are wandering about, eyes glued on the swirling mass above. They’ve led us a merry dance, too, changing their roost location several times over the last few weeks – still always within walking distance. Wherever they choose to roost, I’m lucky they gather right outside my study window before they fly homewards for the night.
My friend and collaborator on local history books, wildlife expert and photographer Keith Kirk has taken some stunning photos and videos. This link takes you to his Facebook video page and from there you can find the link to his photos. He’s a MUCH better photographer than I am!