Project: Starling Survey
Of the many spectacles nature has to offer, none is so mesmerizing … or puzzling … as a “murmuration.”
Although the dictionary defines a mumuration as simply “a flock of starlings,” it’s usually thought of as a beautiful, complex dance-in-flight done by hundreds, or sometimes thousands of starlings at once. If you’ve never seen one, check out the video embedded above.
We know surprisingly little about this phenomenon. We’ve done some mathematical modelling to try to figure out how the birds might use rulesets to avoid smashing into one another, but we are still working out why murmurations occur. The University of Gloucestershire and The Royal Society of Biology in the UK, led by ornithologist Dr Anne Goodenough MRSB, are working to fix that.
Last year, they created a simple survey that you could fill out on your phone, which was designed to let researchers know where starlings had congregated and could be studied. Scientists knew of just two favourite starling hangouts before the survey; after, then had their choice of more than 1600 locations around the world. Check out the map.
This year, you can report sightings using #StarlingSurvey and dedicated Twitter account @Starling_Survey, and fill out a new survey at this site. The survey should take roughly two minutes to complete.
Dr Goodenough said: “It has been suggested that starling murmurations occur because starlings gain safety in numbers, confusing potential predators such as birds of prey before settling down to roost. Another theory is that they could be gathering to keep warm or exchange information. However, despite starling murmurations being an incredible spectacle, the biology of murmurations remains little studied. This study will harness people power once again to further increase knowledge about this amazing phenomenon.”