Thursday, March 1, 2012

Starling flocks, Sparrowhawks and Takeaways

The events of  Tuesday night involving flocks of Starlings and the Sparrowhawk, have prompted me to blow the dust off my keyboard and tell you another tale of my garden birds.

I am sure many of you will have seen through the medium of the television, the internet or maybe even first hand, the amazing spectacle of huge flocks of Starlings filling the skies prior to roosting. The birds come together in enormous clouds, wheeling, turning and swooping in unison. To see this murmuration, as it is called, in real life is fantastic, I can now tell you that to witness it taking place from your own garden, around and above you, is awesome.The performance we watched the other night was (I think) unusually long, but that may have been due to the Sparrowhawk.

For the last few evenings as dusk approached, I had been watching flocks of Starlings numbering maybe a hundred or so birds, gathering together and performing similar aerial acrobatics though on a lesser scale . Many of them would then drop out of the sky to populate our local "High Rise" Conifer tree. This tree is HUGE, and although standing in the garden that is diagonally to the rear of our own garden, is well within 10 metres of our kitchen window. We call it the "High Rise" because it serves as accommodation for a whole variety of different birds throughout the year. Much goes on within those wispy straggly conifer fronds, unseen by the outside world, birds roost, birds nest, life begins and life often ends. The tree has been a regular roost for Starlings throughout the winter and the noise emanating from it as dusk approaches is amazing. It is a constant chatter, chatter, chatter as the birds settle down for the night and I am sure, catch up with each other on the days events.

But back to Tuesday night. The Starlings began to appear and from the outset there were more than I had seen on the other nights. More and more birds began to fill the sky and soon they started to perform. Hundreds or maybe thousands of birds moving together as one, they would gather in a ball then split apart to swoop and dive, twist and turn. It was a mesmerising dance of wings against a backdrop of a clear blue evening sky. At this point it was still relatively early, these murmurations do not usually occur until closer to dusk, as the light fades and darkness begins to fall.

A large flock were swooping overhead, were these our regular roosters? I do not know, but they had their eyes locked onto our "High Rise." Wave after wave of  whooshing Starlings dropped like arrows from the sky, to be swallowed instantly by the tree and disappear from sight.

The Sparrowhawk seemed to come out of nowhere like a low level guided missile!
 A brief blur, a fleeting glimpse, then there was nothing to be seen. The bird of prey intent on grabbing a meal, had also disappeared into the conifer, but seconds later was to emerge with a Starling firmly grasped within the talons of it's left foot. At a much more leisurely speed, the Sparrowhawk flew off to find a nice quiet place where it could enjoy this Fast Food Takeaway meal.

Wave after wave of panicked Starlings now fled the tree and took to the skies once more, joining the throngs that had increased massively in number. There were now thousands of birds, this had become a full on murmuration of Starlings which continued until the last fading rays of light.