The word 'murmuration' seems to have seeped its way into the public's consciousness these days, which is wonderful. It describes the massed aerial manoeuvres of great flocks of Starlings as they arrive at their roost sites.
I see that the Sun newspaper this week carried a story about a murmuration that formed into the shape of a duck. It's surprisingly convincing (and is at the wonderful RSPB Fairburn Ings).
I also saw a TV advert this week in which Starling murmurations formed into all sorts of household objects (I've no idea what the advert was about, but my attention was certainly pricked by the Starlings).
This is what my local murmuration looks like over Brighton Pier, which I photographed a few years ago.
But I don't need to go there anymore because I have a daily murmuration in my garden.
At 3.42pm give or take, my murmuration arrives. My one-bird murmuration.
Han, as I call him (named after Han Solo, of course), has been roosting alone high up in a leylandii tree every winter's night for the last three years. Ok, I can't be 100% sure that it has been Han all that time, but that chances must be that one Starling roosting alone in the same tree has got to be the same bird.
Why he shuns other groups of Starlings as they pass overhead I don't know. But he is single-minded, not letting the lure of the crowd sway him from his goal.
When he appears high overhead, he then proceeds to do several sweeping laps over my garden like a plane caught in a holding loop over Heathrow. He will even do some trial landings, pulling out at the last moment.
And then finally, maybe after five or ten minutes of dithering, in he swoops, closing his wings for a final torpedo into the thick foliage.
Now I don't have a photo of Han, because in the sky he is a dot and in the tree he is invisible, so instead you get a photo I took on Scilly a couple of autumns ago, just to remind us all of what a stunner of a bird a Starling is.
In fact, I've jut realised what it reminds me of - my Christmas tree, which has white fairy lights and multi-colour optic-fibre endings.
This photo is actually a singing bird - you can see the flaring of the throat feathers and the slightly open bill. And Starlings do like to have a good singsong together as a flock, even in winter. In other words, this is not song to attract a mate or song to defend a territory. So why do they do it?
Well, research in America identified that the act of singing releases opioids in Starlings; in other words they get a bit high, and rather relaxed!
It's rather similar to us humans, where singing is known to release endorphins. So if you have been dithering about whether to let rip on a few carols, don't hold back. Release your natural pleasure booster, just like Starlings do.
Of course, the sad thing is that fewer of us these days get to enjoy a Christmas Starling Concert, so catastrophic have their declines have. But that's where we can all make a difference. Starlings adore lashings of supplementary food put out on a bird table such as fatty nibbles and soaked mealworms. And if you can put up a Styarling nestbox as well, even better.
Here's what a Starling nestbox looks like - just like a normal birdbox but on steroids. The hole needs to be a whopping 45mm in diameter.
You can of course make your own, like my rather simple effort above (instructions here), or the easiest way of course is to buy one here in the RSPB shop.
So, it is my hope that in 2021 my Han Solo finds his Princess Leia, they settle down in my box, have a family, and I will see my murmuration grow.
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