Starling survey

 Scientists are calling on the public to continue to record where and when they see starling murmurations across the UK in order to help them solve the mysteries of this behaviour.

Published: 04/02/2016 10:33

Scientists are calling on the public to continue to record where and when they see starling murmurations across the UK in order to help them solve the mysteries of this behaviour.

The citizen science survey run by the University of Gloucestershire and Royal Society of Biology has received information on more than 850 sightings since November 2015 and they are starting to uncover some insights into the spectacle. However the researchers are now keen to gather as many records as possible of the largest murmurations, which are expected in the coldest months between now and March.

This year’s #StarlingSurvey is looking specifically at the possible effects of predators and temperature on the birds. The research follows on from the 2014-15 project which collected baseline data on the location and timing of murmurations.

People can record their starling murmuration sightings on the Royal Society of Biology website: www.rsb.org.uk/StarlingSurvey. The survey takes less than a minute to complete and the scientists are especially keen to have multiple records from the same sites, as well as one-off sightings.

Dr Anne Goodenough MRSB, an ornithologist at the University of Gloucestershire, said: “The records we have received are providing intriguing insights into starling behaviour. However, in the coming months we expect to see even bigger murmurations. Displays at this time of year are regularly made up of thousands of birds and in places can reach a million flying in swirling patterns across the sky. We would like the public to send us information on these large murmurations in particular.

“We hope that wildlife lovers all over the UK will look to the skies above town and country, and let us know when, where and what they see! It is only by harnessing people power that we will help unlock the behavioural mysteries of these stunning aerial displays.

“We particularly want to establish whether murmurations are bigger or last longer in the presence of predators such as sparrow hawks or peregrine falcons, which might be the case if murmuration behaviour has evolved to reduce the chances of starlings becoming dinner for avian predators. Of the records submitted so far, around 50% include details of a predator, including some relatively rare species such as hen harriers and short-eared owls.”

“We are also looking at temperature in case the murmuration is some kind of ‘signpost’ to increase the number of birds joining a roost, which would obviously be more important in cold weather given the thermal benefits this would provide. Not so much safety in numbers in that case, more like warmth in numbers!”

The latest news, sightings and photographs can also be followed on Twitter @starling_survey or using the hashtag #StarlingSurvey.

Photo credit: Airwolfhound.