[Tweeters] Murmuration

Kevin Purcell kevinpurcell at pobox.com
Mon Dec 30 15:25:57 PST 2013

On Dec 27, 2013, at 8:58 AM, Pamela Myers wrote:

> About 4:00 yesterday afternoon, I watched a murmuration of STARLINGS in Marysville, WA for nearly 30 minutes. It started with a flock of probably 50 birds, but smaller groups kept coming and joining in until their must have been 600+ birds. Except on video, I've never seen this magical phemomenon. To use a hackneyed adjective, it was absolutely awesome. What are they doing? It seems that scientists really don't know. Looked to me like they were just having fun!


> Pam Myers

> Santa Cruz, CA

It is understood what murmurating starlings are doing: they're first accumulating a large group of starlings then group selecting a safe place for the night roost.

In their natural habitat in Europe they murmurated over reedbeds picking out an area then dropping into very rapidly. Urban starlings use piers, bridges, building ledges and urban trees as night roosts. Even the structure of the night roost has been investigated (thermal video cameras really help this work) with juvi birds in the colder or more vulnerable positions on the edges and the adult birds in the center (or in the center of groups).

This used to be common phenomena in Downtown Seattle when I first arrived (early 1990s) when you could see them murrmurating around the skyscrapers to pick a roost on the waterfront. Sometimes with a Perigrine looking for dinner.

My most interesting murmuration experience was being in the middle of the "fall out" to the roost. I was on one of the piers on the Seattle waterfront (mid-90s? Pier 62 or Pier 63?) watching a murmuration sweep up and down the waterfront when they finally selected the underneath of that pier to roost and "fell out" right above me. The noise of probably hundreds to even low thousands of starlings dropping out of the sky into their roost under the pier a couple of meters from me was truly awesome (it filled me with awe).

A similar (but less spectacular as the flocks are smaller and lower) group selection process can be seen in the lowly rock pigeon at dusk too when selecting a night roost. Even "dull birds" have interesting behaviors!

Kevin Purcell (Capitol Hill, Seattle, WA)
kevinpurcell at pobox.com | @kevinpurcell

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