Birdwatch Ireland unsure of reason for decrease in starling murmurations

Birdwatch Ireland unsure of reason for decrease in starling murmurations

Stephen Maguire

Birdwatch Ireland is trying to discover why one of the country's most spectacular wildlife displays is disappearing.

Starling murmurations occur when tens of thousands of the common birds gather to dance across the sky.

The spectacular scenes were once a much more common sight in Irish skies but have become less and less in recent years.

Birdwatch Ireland says they are being inundated with phonecalls and emails at this time of year with requests from the Irish public asking where they can't see the autumn and winter spectacle.

Now the organisation is seeking the public's help in trying to log the murmurations in an effort to build up data on the mystery 'sky dances.'

Niall Hatch, spokesman for Birdwatch Ireland, said it is still a mystery.

One of the most spectacular Starling murmurations has taken place each year for the past five years above Lough Ennell outside Mullingar.

Others occasionally take place in Wexford Town, in Bettystown, Co Meath and also in central Belfast.

However, Mr Hatch said murmurations are getting more scarce.

A hundred years ago, Starling murmurations would have been common in a lot of towns around Ireland but they are getting fewer and fewer each year and we don't know why.

"We know there are less Starlings but they are still a common bird and are not in any danger but we don't know why the frequency of these amazing performances are getting less and less," he said.

Mr Hatch said ornithologists cannot say for definite why Starlings take part in the spectacular murmurations but it is not thought it is courtship ritual.

"It's the wrong time of year for that but there are a number of theories.

"One is that birds gather in huge numbers to avoid predators because they will not be picked off by the likes of peregrine falcons if they are in a large grouping.

"Another theory is that they can tell if other birds have eaten well by the way they fly and so other birds will follow them to their source of food," he revealed.

Mr Hatch said that one of the most fascinating aspects of murmurations is that the birds never crash into each other.

As well as the obvious breath-taking scene it provides, the fact that not one of these tens of thousands of birds flying and changing direction in a split second ever hit each other is incredible.

"It's an amazing aspect of the nature around us and we would lovely to find out more about it and that is why we are appealing to people to film or photograph murmurations if they see them in the coming weeks," he said.

Anybody who witnesses a Starling murmuration is asked to share their photos or videos to the Birdwatch Ireland Facebook page.

Otherwise, people can email their sighting to info@birdwatchireland.ie or call on 01-2819878.

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