Skip Navigation

Starling murmurations: what they are and where to see

Unassuming yet full of character, starlings are a garden staple. Their dark, iridescent plumage, pointed bill and lively walk mark them as handsome birds, but their real wow-factor is in their get togethers.

Do starlings migrate?

The UK's starling population stays with us throughout the year, moving about locally as they search for food. They're a regular garden feeder visitor, and they can often be seen probing lawns and pasture with their long, pointed bills on the hunt for buried insects. They also gather together in small flocks, roosting in groups at night and descending on fruiting elderberries to guzzle the crop.

But in autumn, something special happens. Hundreds of thousands of starlings migrate to the UK from September to join our resident birds, coming from as far afield as Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia. 

Starlings flock together, sometimes in their thousands. (Photo: Alamy)
Starlings flock together, sometimes in their thousands. (Photo: Alamy)

What is a murmuration of starlings?

The milder weather in the UK is a big draw for small birds escaping harsh winter weather, but there's also strength in numbers. During the winter months starlings form large communal roosts in trees, reedbeds or human structures, grouping together for warmth and safety. 

As daylight begins to fade, thousands of birds arrive in small flocks above a roosting site, coming together into a swirling mass of birds that twists and turns through the air. The incredible shapes they make in the air are known as murmurations and are thought to help evade attacks from birds of prey. 

Once the birds are satisfied that the coast is clear, birds will peel off from the main group in coordinated descents, settling into the roost with a loud flurry of wings and chattering - a spectacle in itself!

Murmurations can form incredible shapes against the darkening sky, often in response to an aerial predator. (Photo: Alamy)
Murmurations can form incredible shapes against the darkening sky, often in response to an aerial predator. (Photo: Alamy)

Where to see a starling murmuration

Flocks of starlings can often be seen coming into roost over towns across the UK in autumn, as well as at nature reserves with good roosting cover.

The number of starlings roosting at well-known sites varies from year to year, so it can be useful to check online forums for up to date information. Always arrive well before dusk for your best chance of seeing the full spectacle.

Famous murmuration sites include:

  • Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath, Somerset
  • Aberystwyth Pier, Ceredigion
  • Brighton Pier, Sussex
  • Leighton Moss, Lancashire
  • Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire