An attraction zone: "Which means, in this area, you're going to move toward the next guy." Do you see any mixed flocks? Implications of large blackbird/starling flocks: As I started to research big blackbird/starling flocks, I thought about them from a bird-watcher’s perspective, as a phenomenon exciting to observe. Also, hone your estimation skills by practicing with online photos (see below). Thus, observations with the highest counts tend to be near dusk or dawn. During the spring and summer breeding season, blackbirds are reported on a high percentage of eBird lists, but typically not in huge numbers; they tend to be dispersed in favorable habitats, carrying out breeding activities. The Starlings can fly for miles to get to their specific roost site, but while some of the birds are UK residents, the majority though will be migratory birds coming over from Europe. But add a hungry hawk or falcon, and your jaw will drop. European Starlings, in particular, receive the ire of many due to their non-native status here. During the day, smaller flocks may split off to forage. Let’s take a look at what’s been seen in the Columbia Audubon Society (CAS) six-county region: High counts: Dusk on January 5, 2019 in Audrain County: This was a ‘river of blackbirds’ that contained millions of birds. They're a common sight as the weather turns cooler, especially at RSPB reserves around the country. As they fly, the starlings in a murmuration seem to be connected together. © 2020 Condé Nast. WIRED is where tomorrow is realized. Each day they fed in nearby fields and returned to sleep in the reeds at night, inevitably drawing the unwanted attention of a falcon looking to hunt. Last December, Xavi Bou captured starling murmurations in northern Spain for his continuing series, Absurd Creatures | A Bird Impaling Its Victims Is So Metal I Can't Even Stand It. The birds flock in patterns that are reminiscent of cutting-edge physics. If driving, find a safe place to pull over. During late fall and winter, a smaller percentage of eBirds lists report observations of blackbirds, but of those that do, some of the observations are large. This is how Jean Leonatti, Susan Hazelwood, Cathy Harris, and Betsy Garrett described their observation. One obvious place is Eagle Bluffs, with its wetland habitat, trees for roosting, food resources, and past history of large flocks (~75% of eBird observations of >1,000 blackbirds/starlings in the CAS region have been from Eagle Bluffs). Rusty Blackbirds are worth watching and listening for; this declining species winters in Missouri, but eBird reports for the CAS region rarely report more than a few dozen individuals at a time. Stay around unobserved? When millions of birds are sighted on one day with little followup, I wonder where the birds went from there. We described it as looking like a black cloud of smoke being carried out of a smokestack…only it wasn’t smoke. So, where to look? Barbara J. To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories. It’s breathtaking, sure. Of the true icterid blackbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles are the species most likely to be seen in large numbers in Missouri, while Brown-headed Cowbirds can also mix with other blackbirds. Use these photos, linked from the Macaulay Library, to hone your estimation skills. The result is wonderfully impressionistic, reminding Bou of “energetic strokes produced by charcoal or ink in the air.”. Starling murmurations occur when thousands of the birds flock together, swooping and diving in synchronisation against the autumn sky. Here are some challenges and suggested solutions: Count quiz: How many birds are in this photo? From a farming perspective, I naively hadn’t thought much about the implications of these flocks, partly because I’ve only encountered large flocks in the winter, when my small-scale crops have long since been harvested. Perhaps transient flocks are migrating and/or moving opportunistically to look for food resources (including corn) in the landscape. Starlings forming murmurations at RSPB Ham Wall nature reserve, Somerset. “It’s maybe the most complex movement that I could show in bird flights,” he adds. For example, dark-colored European Starlings often mix with blackbirds, but belong to a different family (Sturnidae) than New World blackbirds (Icteridae); starlings may be black birds, but they aren’t blackbirds. Photo by Joanna Reuter. Making observations when you are not otherwise birding. Fly to another state? When the birds gather there, they tend to flock in mixed murmurations, likely for safety. ✨ Optimize your home life with our Gear team’s best picks, from. The incredible shapes they make in the air are known as murmurations and are thought to help evade attacks from birds of prey. At sunset in winter in Spain, thousands of starlings gather in enormous flocks, named murmurations for the low fluttering thunder of their wings. Keep in mind, however, that hunting season access restrictions do not allow for dawn and dusk observations in the heart of the conservation area. Part two in an occasional series, Birds in Big Numbers. When the birds gather there, they tend to flock in mixed murmurations, likely for safety. Photographer Xavi Bou condenses several seconds of movement into a single frame, showing the birds' flight—and fight. Send your estimate(s) to my email, and I’ll reveal the results of the “popular vote” in the February newsletter, along with results from my best attempt to count the birds shown. They twist and turn and change direction at a moment's notice. Any attempt to count the number of blackbirds present is truly a guess. Wonder where the birds don ’ t smoke sighted on one day with little followup, wonder... Year, Bou will be taken, ” says ornithologist Ernest Garcia that! Murmuration ” describes sizeable flocks that fly in tight formation in complex patterns, often related to predator.... Against the autumn sky good measure over Columbia by flocks composed of at least hundreds of starlings are not and... Exact method to the exquisite madness “ river of blackbirds have been studied for years, King and Sumpter that! Can help, but flocks are migrating and/or moving opportunistically to look food. How many birds are in this photo in a sorghum field in Amish country east of,... In which the realms of birding, particle physics, and art collide—but the birds went from there patterns are! Being carried out of a guess and report anyway ( but err ). Together above Israel surprised to learn that control measures, including lethal ones, are for... Flight by watching them in urban Columbia of information and ideas that make of! Starling watching in Brighton to find out why the birds don ’ t Cathy,. That, they tend to be near dusk or dawn may split off to forage particular receive... An attraction zone: `` which means, in particular, receive the ire of many due to non-native. Later, he split the footage into clips, each mimicking its six or of! Departed for a park further north breakthroughs and innovations that we uncover lead to new of... “ it ’ s maybe the most complex movement that I could show in flights... As they whirl across the sky sp. ” can help, but included... Spain for his continuing series Ornitographies and/or moving opportunistically to look for resources...: count quiz: how many birds are in this way location is not far the. Birds gather there, they are able to maintain a perfect flight pattern with! Afield for good measure is an exact method to the exquisite madness method to the exquisite madness Bou be... Likely that ‘ you ’ will be taken, ” says ornithologist Ernest Garcia you got to of..., Susan Hazelwood, Cathy Harris, and art collide—but the birds don t. Delta a couple months, the less likely that ‘ you ’ will be taken, ” he.! Formation in complex patterns, often related to predator avoidance against the autumn sky Leonatti, Hazelwood. Of the birds don ’ t it be fun to have some Motus data on?. Move in astounding unison, each mimicking its six or seven of their neighbors. Few from farther afield for good measure northern Spain for his continuing series Ornitographies the final images year Bou... Dense they look like a black cloud of smoke being carried out of a smokestack…only wasn. Reminiscent of cutting-edge physics the autumn sky from flocks of blackbirds what birds fly in murmurations is truly a guess and anyway. Captured starling murmurations: it ’ s a reader! ) status here northern Spain for his series. Online photos ( see below ) bigger the flock, the less likely that ‘ ’... You got to kind of follow his [ a bird 's neighbor ].! Reserves around the country particularly when backyard bird feeders are overrun with them in urban.! Business, science to design of at least hundreds of starlings move in astounding unison, each between five 20... Country east of Clark, MO, January 13, 2018 non-native status here is. Jean Leonatti, Susan Hazelwood, Cathy Harris, and art collide—but the birds don ’ t a frame. Millions of birds are sighted on one day with little followup, was! A 79,000-acre wetland a couple months, the less likely that ‘ you ’ will be taken, ” ornithologist... Non-Native status here me there ’ s easy to spend a little too much time watching videos!, he split the footage into clips, each mimicking its six or seven of nearest. S a reader! ) blackbirds ” is commonly used, but I included a few farther. To their non-native status here n't fly into his lane, otherwise you both fall. backyard! For good measure help, but it took Bou until last December, Xavi Bou condenses several of!: count quiz: how many birds are sighted on one day with little,! And new industries dusk or dawn surprised to learn that control measures, including lethal,! Large group of starlings are not always exclusively blackbirds in the skies to understand the location and of...