Sun. Feb 25th, 2024
Autumn is not just colorful leaves and migration: bring on the murmurings!

Today’s blog comes from Jessica Stillman, School Outreach Coordinator for Bronte Creek Provincial Park.

With all the colorful leaves and migrating birds, fall is characterized by great spectacles.

But even before we share these spectacular displays, fall delights us with the sights and sounds of another performance: the fabulous fall show presented by European Starlings.

The stars of the show

As temperatures drop, we begin to see congregations of starlings forming in treetops, fields and even on power lines across Ontario.

group flight

In some places, these autumn roosts are known to house up to 100,000 starlings. The sounds of the flocks can be heard echoing in the evening sky, but what will surely surprise you is seeing them flying overhead!

These exceptional aerial shows are called murmurations. While the exact reason for this flight performance is not fully understood, it is believed to be a combination of a few explanations:

A dizzying variety

Have you ever heard of safety in numbers?

Imagine being a predator, like a peregrine falcon, looking for food. The sheer size and mesmerizing movement of these massive aerial acrobatics will surely make targeting a single bird more difficult.

group flight

feeling the heat

While some of us may enjoy the comfort of snuggling under a pile of blankets with the crisp fall air on our cheeks, this luxury is not for the birds.

Gathering in groups could help flocks stay warm at night as nighttime temperatures continue to cool.

Call and answer

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With temperatures dropping and food sources becoming scarce, communication is key to survival.

The chattering of all these birds seems to indicate an exchange of information, such as good places to feed.

Or maybe it’s just a bit of catching up with friends!

No matter the reason, these beautifully choreographed dances are an incredible sight to behold.

A sky full of starlings

The complexity of these flight patterns is also part of their magic.

Consider how each individual bird must take into account flight speed, direction, and flock size while maintaining a safe distance from other individuals. All of this is done while flying high above the ground.

This makes backbiting an even more amazing trick that can be simulated by a mathematical algorithm.

group flight

We won’t go into the details, but trust us, it’s worth investigating if the complex nature of these flights is something that piqued your interest.

Remember, it’s not just the beautiful colorful leaves that make fall a season of great scenes.

Watch and listen to the choreographed spectacle put on by starlings at a park near you this fall.