European Starling

Autumn isn’t just coloured leaves and migration — bring on the murmurations!

Today’s blog comes from Jessica Stillman, school outreach coordinator for Bronte Creek Provincial Park.

With all the coloured leaves and migrating birds, autumn is all about big performances.

But even before sharing these spectacular displays, autumn 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 get cooler, we begin to see congregations of starlings forming in the treetops, fields, and even on power lines across Ontario.

group flight

In some places, these autumn roosts have been known to have up to 100,000 starlings. The sounds of flocks can be heard echoing through the evening sky, but it’s the sight of them flying overhead that is sure to amaze you!

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

A dizzying array

Ever heard of safety in numbers?

Imagine being a predator, like a Peregrine Falcon, looking for a meal. The sheer size and hypnotizing motion of these mass aerial stunts is sure to make targeting a single bird more difficult.

group flight

Feeling the heat

While some of us might enjoy the comfort of cozying up under a pile blankets with the cool autumn air on our cheeks, this luxury isn’t for the birds.

Gathering in groups might help flocks to keep warm at night, as evening temperatures continue to get cooler.

Call and response

With temperatures dipping and food sources getting more scarce, communication is key to survival.

The chatter of all these birds seems to point to an exchange of information, like good feeding spots.

Or maybe its just a little bit of catching up between friends!

No matter the reason, these beautifully choreographed dances are an amazing 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 has to take into account flight velocity, direction, and size of the flock while maintaining a safe distance from other individuals. This is all done while flying high above the ground.

This makes murmurations an even more astounding stunt that can be simulated by a mathematical algorithm.

group flight

We won’t go into the details, but believe us, it is worth looking in to if the complex nature of these flights is something that’s piqued your interest!

Remember, it’s not just the gorgeous coloured leaves that makes autumn a season of grand scenes.

Look and listen for the choreographed spectacle that is put on by starlings at a park near you this fall.