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Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Does this qualify as a murmuration?

07 March 2020

     Immigrants to North America, throughout history, have experienced deep nostalgia for the familiar sights and sounds of their homeland, and from time to time acclimatisation societies were formed and non-native species of flora and fauna were imported into the New World. As far as birds are concerned, most species died out fairly quickly, but one of the species that has survived remarkably well, and spread to almost every corner of the continent is Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). It has become a serious threat to many native birds, especially cavity-nesters, aggressively displacing woodpeckers, bluebirds, swallows and others.
     It is a singularly handsome bird, but almost universally despised despite its beauty. Few have a good word to say about it.


       Whenever we go through the small town of Wallenstein we are impressed by the sheer number of starlings that are always present at one location. I find it difficult to count large flocks and generally err on the side of conservatism, but I cannot imagine that there is anything less than a thousand birds. 
     Compared with the enormous flocks of this species in Europe, forming those choreographed aerial ballets called murmurations, I realize that this congregation pales into insignificance, but it is impressive for us. Soon the flock will break up as the birds pair off for the breeding season, but for now they are still putting on a show.



     They swirl around and change direction as though they were one organism, and come in to perch together, crowding along the wires, on roof tops and in trees.





     On some of the birds you can perhaps see the yellow bill with the bluish base, indicating that the birds are transforming from their basic plumage into full nuptial regalia.


      It is quite amazing to see the birds fly in and occupy every millimetre of space on a wire, darting in and wedging themselves between prior occupants, with never a hint of squabbling.




     It is a remarkable sight and one that gives us great pleasure each time we witness it.


     I might not be quite so pleased if they evict any of our screech owls from their nest boxes!
     It was a beautiful day with bright sunshine and mild for the time of year. Local farmers are tapping the Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) earlier than usual it seems.



     All the sap pails are now made of plastic (isn't everything?) and the old metal pails are highly valued as garden ornaments or planters.
     This scene reminded me a little of African savanna with snow!


     Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is a very common species and this individual is demonstrating its acrobatic prowess at a suet feeder.


     Another bird was feeding a little more conventionally as it gripped a seed between its feet and hammered it open.


     A female Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) hitched her way up a weathered post, all the while probing for tasty morsels.


     There was hardly a country road that we drove along that did not have large numbers of Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) in the fields, and feeding on grit and minerals at the edge of the road.



     They are quite skittish and tended to fly ahead of us whenever we got close, but this bird was a little more obliging than most.


     And another stayed on the road just long enough for Miriam to snap a picture.


     I can say with confidence that it is not often that Common Starling is the highlight of a day's birding but on this day it certainly was. After all, nature's spectacles sometimes present themselves when you least expect them. Enjoy them while you may.

68 comments:

  1. Oh my, I am gobsmacked by all those wonderful birds you got to see. The starlings are not always loved here, but I love to see them, especially when they turn up in such numbers. Thanks for sharing those fantastic photos! All the best, Valerie

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  2. Our common starlings are not quite as common as they once were. They are almost disappearing in gardens round here. I am not madly upset about the relative lack of starlings because they will steal smaller birds food, but I don’t want their numbers to shrink any more. Those murmurations (like in Aberystwyth) are indeed a fantastic sight to behold.

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  3. Hello, David,
    It's true that it's impressive sometimes to see the number of birds together. And the changes of direction are so beautiful to observe in the sky, it's a breathtaking moment.
    At the moment the starlings are circling my roof to try to find a nice spot ;-)
    The log nesting box is occupied every year. I love the young ones, they are adorable. And listening to them sing is also extraordinary. Every year I hear new sounds.
    Thank you for all theses beautiful pictures.
    Gros bisous

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    1. Shorebirds rival starlings in these amazing sequences.

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  4. Hi David ... how lovely to see your murmurations of starlings - I love seeing them too ... I remember them from my childhood and my mother pointing them out. Your 'African Savannah' in the snow is very beautiful ... Miriam's done you and us proud with her photos ... cheers Hilary

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  5. Hari OM
    A murmuration of any size is always worth the witnessing! YAM xx

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  6. Love your mini-mummuration. And indeed all of the things you saw and captured for this post. As always many thanks.
    We have starlings too (poor often despised starlings) but I have never seen them in those numbers.

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  7. Oh, so beautiful photos, David! The Starlings are a sign of spring here. When it comes here, then it's spring, and no more winter.
    Last week I saw flocks of Spinus spinus. I'm not sure if it's a correct name because it have been named Carduelis spinus too. They visit me every spring, so I guess it's springtime very soon.

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    1. Spinus spinus is the current name, Marit. The genus was changed some time ago.

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  8. It will be a few months before the starlings return to our neighbourhood. I always enjoy them.

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  9. Parfois j'en voyais chez ma mère mais ils étaient peu nombreux.
    C'est impressionnant d'en voir autant, et tous alignés sur les fils.
    Je trouve très joli l'alouette.
    Et la photo des arbres dans la neige est très belle.
    Bonne soirée

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  10. What an amazing sight those starlings must have been.

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  11. Nunca había visto, tantas aves juntas. Hasta el cielo lo ha invadido, con su alegre vuelo.

    Hace uos días, en la playa. Ví una garna cnatidad de gaviotas volando, que desaparecieron rápidamente en la misma dirección. Ni tan siquiera me dió tiempo de sacar la cámara de la funda para tomar fotos. El misterio estaba, en que había dos perros grandes que las asustó.

    Besos

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  12. I've seen the starlings aerial show in a few places I've lived but not yet here in Dungloe. I'm always amazed when watching them.

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  13. Bonita entrada amigo David. Como bien dices los estorninos en mi zona en época de olivas, acuden en manadas a los olivos y forman tremendas bandadas en el cielo que son todo un espectáculo. En mi jardín, todos los días del año tengo estorninos, existe un pequeño bando que viven todo el año en un alero de unas naves cerca de casa, siempre están por el estanque.
    Disculpa la tardanza a contestarte en mi entrada ya que estaba fuera de casa.
    Un fuerte abrazo querido compadre y amigo David.

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  14. Hola David.

    La introducción de fauna exótica siempre acarrea perjuicios directa o indirectamente a la autóctona y por lo general no tiene una única solución y tampoco suele/n ser simples.

    Como siempre vuestras fotos nos enseñan lo hermosas que son las aves americanas.

    Un abrazo desde Galicia,

    Rafa.

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    1. Time to make a trip here, Rafa, so that we can show you these birds! Bring your son!

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  15. I will admit that I like seeing Starlings, though we don't seem to have a lot of them. Lots of Chickadees, though. I have been feeding them, and any other birds who visit, quite a lot so far.

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  16. Thanks for helping me see the beauty in a flock of starlings. Your photos are spectacular. I

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  17. Very cool! I've not seen a lark!
    I've seen huge flocks of blackbirds around here in the past. They are amazing in big numbers.

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  18. Tenemos una auténtica plaga de estorninos David. Han intentado echarlos muchas veces pero no se puede con ellos. Tienen el parque fatal de excrementos y por las tardes cuando vuelven para dormir es una nube negra. Dificil expulsarlos.
    Te deseo buena noche.
    Un abrazo.

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  19. It is fascinating watching murmurations of Starlings wheel about the sky on some signal that is invisible to the mere human watcher. They are quite amazing birds and after all they didn't ask to be brought here and are not trying to disrupt our native birds. They are just Starlings being Starlings.

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  20. Hello David, Starlings, a bird that was to be seen in my hometown in the thousands if not more when I was young. But they are in decline. When I see them I stop and try to take photos of them. Food and habitat is lost because of intense use (and spraying with glyfosaat on) of farmland that has hardly anything living in it. Not only Starlings but other birds are in delcline of this as well. So human kind had messed up on both sides of the ocean and we are worried and trying to safe things. But they are amazing clever birds and so collourful when the sun shines on their featers. Great photos by Miriam.
    Warm regards,
    Roos

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  21. Straight out of Hitchcock! I love the word, murmeration. It really fits the sound of it all. I love seeing the barns and sap pails, too. Maybe I'll buy some Canadian maple syrup while I'm there, see how it's different from Michigan!

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  22. Sadly such congregations of starlings wreak havoc on cars parked below. A friend in Rochester, NY, had the problem for several years I know of.
    I do like your new red wing blackbird header. There are marshes of said birds at the heads of two streets here. I've never seen one caught in such a wonderful pose before.

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  23. Here, it's the grackles that provide a show. Twice a year (presumably during migrations) they show up and collect in huge groups: in trees, on wires, around buildings, and so on. They don't form murmurations, but they certainly are striking.

    The starlings are quite common here, but they don't form such large flocks. I see them quite a bit at the marinas. Most of the pilings have cone-shaped caps on top, meant to keep birds from perching. Because of the gap between the piling and the cap, starlings can find their way in, and they adore building nests there. It's great fun watching them fly back and forth while both building and nurturing their brood. Their calls and songs are quite musical, too.

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    1. Red-winged Blackbirds too show the same proclivity for large gatherings after the breeding season.

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  24. When we wintered in Texas on the Gulf Coast, an old timer told me that in his youth the sky at migration time would be dark with flocks of songbirds. “Nothing like that now” he sadly told me. (I was telling him how happy I was to see as many species as I did.). So, starlings seem to be almost the only species I have ever seen that gives me even a tiny idea of what that must have been like! That and the migrating chimney swifts we’ve seen in Oregon once.

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  25. You have beautiful birds in your country David. We have much starlings too at the moment. I like the woodpecker.

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  26. Hallo, mooie serie weer van de vogels. Ook hgier bij ons in de buurt zijn hele volken spreeuwen , wel 'n mooi gezicht als ze allemaal neerdalen in de bomen, maar 'n kabaal dat ze maken.
    Groet Kees.

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  27. Wonderful images. I can well imagine your awe and enjoyment in watching the Starlings. Are they the only bird to create Murmurations?

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    1. I have not heard the term used for other species, Helen, although shorebirds, for example, form very similar formations.

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  28. Such a pleasant post to see your birds.

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  29. Hello, a murmuration is always cool to see. I am not a fan of the Starlings, but they are beautiful with the great lighting on them. The Chickadee and the Horned Larks are a few of my favorites. Great post and lovely photos. happy birding, enjoy your day!

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    1. I really think it is time to accept birds as part of the environment and not be "fans" of one species or another. Seems to verge on avian racism to me. And we deliberately introduced these birds. They did not arrive naturally.

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  30. Fascinating sights of the flocks of starlings!
    It's amazing how they manage to fly in a coordinated way - offering the murmuration show.
    Sadly, they also cause a lot of damage to environment.

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    1. I am not quite sure what environmental damage you are speaking of.

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  31. Hi David.

    Beautiful so many birds together.

    Greeting from Patricia.

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  32. Wow! Such a big flock of birds. Great sighting of birds.

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  33. Very true, a flock of starlings is an amazing sight! Great photos David.

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  34. What a great post, David!

    The much-maligned Starling is, in my very humble opinion, very handsome. In the strong morning or afternoon rays of sunlight their plumage shimmers with an amazing array of colors. I am quite thankful for the huge numbers of this species due to the billions of insects they gobble up each year!

    Once again, I admit to being very impressed with Canada's snow-scapes. Clean, minimalist, stunning.

    When we lived in West Texas, we really enjoyed seeing Horned Larks. If one shows up here in Florida, it's a headline event.

    Hope your week is going well.

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  35. Yes, I'm sure that qualifies as a murmuration. Starling used to roost in the wood next to the farm where I worked for a few weeks every winter before joining up with a larger group a couple of miles away. They made quite a spectacle especially on nights when they performed against a red sunset.

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  36. I have seen some great murmurations in the UK around Christmas time. They are just amazing to watch. Hope all is well. Best wishes to you both, Diane

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  37. I love to watch any large flock of birds fly together. Can’t imagine how they wheel and turn with such synchronization and no collisions! We have had great flocks of mixed black birds, mainly redwinged, at our feeders the last couple weeks. They can down a suet cake in minutes! I love seeing your sap taps and buckets and the big red barn. Makes me miss Minnesota.

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    1. You will have to have a budget for bird feeding!

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  38. Wonderful photos, as always, Thank you so much for wharing.

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  39. David - you learn something new every day - murmuration. I am familiar with birds moving as one, but didn't know this is what it is called. Thanks for the education and the photos. (I must admit to less than admiring thoughts about starlings, though.)

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  40. Hi David,
    I didn't know starlings live at your continent also. To see a flog flying round is an amazing sight. But from close-up - and with a bit of sunshine - each indivdual bird is a flashing, colorful beauty. It was a joy to read and see this post.

    Best regards, Corrie

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  41. Lovely Starlings, I know that they were imported, but, they were a murmuration.

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  42. I've seen Starlings in NC but not around here. But they sure are beautiful when the light gets on them just right. Love those Horned Larks and the little Downy. There's always something to see when you get out there! And it's healthy! Enjoy your day!

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  43. Por aquí hay bastantes estorninos ¡ a mí me gustan ! Solían venir de otros países a cazarlos y mataban muchísimos. Sabes que estás invitado, tengo muy buen queso aceitunas y vino, lo pasarías genial. Ya no hay grullas, pero sí cigüeñas blancas, negras y mucho más. Un abrazo.

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  44. Must admit I have never thought much of starlings prior to reading your blog. Always a bit of a nuisance bird in my experience. However, you have changed my mind somewhat. Didn't know they were imported. The idiot things we humans do. Always loved chickadees when we had our feeders.

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  45. This is a very beautiful and exceptional blog with so many starlings. Beautiful to look at and beautifully engraved. The feet of the snow make me happy because we hardly saw any snow in the Netherlands. The lark is also so beautifully photographed. The woodpecker is great to see again. I'm really enjoying these pictures David :-)
    Dear greetings, Helma

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  46. Querido amigo los Estorninos aquí también llenan las ciudades en invierno, sus dibujos en el cielo nos deja boquiabiertos. En los pueblos hay menos. Me encanta ese hermoso pájaro carpintero. Las fotos son preciosas. Un fuerte abrazo para ti y para Miriam.

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  47. Hi David,
    I like those spectacular bird shows! Starlings are cool!
    But your Downy Woodpecker and Horned Larks are superb!Also the Black-capped Chickadee so beautiful to see. Miriam has made amazing pictures. My compliments!
    Best regards, Maria

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  48. An impressive number - a black army.

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  49. I know some people don't approve of Starlings, but I love to watch them...they are so beautiful. Really great photos!!

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  50. As I sit in the comfort of my chair looking at all of these wonderful photographs, I simply say a huge thank you.
    Such a lovely post.

    All the best Jan

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  51. It´s shocking the amount of starlings!. A few days ago I made a filming of a large flock flying rhythmically over my city, 10 years ago they were a rarity and you can only see a few in countryside. I really liked the photo of the trees between the snow and the woodpecker.

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  52. hello David
    what a lot of birds, unbelievable if you haven't seen it yourself ..
    thanks for that
    Regards Frank

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  53. Kolejne doskonałe obserwacje i udane zdjęcia!
    Szpaków jest bardzo dużo na całym świecie! Zjadają tony szkodników i jestem im za to wdzięczna!

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  54. WOW!
    Thousands of wonderful starlings. I've never seen such a quantity.
    Greetings.

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  55. Interesting what you say about starlings. In Sweden the numbers seem to lower every year. I don´t see much of them anymore. Far from the numbers that can create the "black sun" when there are thousends forming a cloud before settling for the night.

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  56. Oddly, I would not have recognized a starling up close but I have seen them in the skies and it is mesmerizing to watch.

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