WATCH: Spectacular bird displays in Laois skies

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Stunning displays of starlings in mass flocks have been recorded in Laois this February.

Watch this video made by Joe McCabe in Ballacolla, south of the county on February 3.

"This has been happening at same time each evening for past few weeks. Spectacular," Joe says.

Colette Byrne also took a great video in the same area on February 5.

The phenomena are called murmurations, as tens of thousands of starlings fly and swoop in unison, creating amazing shapes in the sky before they roost for the night. 

BirdWatchIreland wants to find the best videos of murmurations in Ireland this Spring.

"In recent weeks we’ve gotten reports of some well-known Starling murmurations that are ‘back in action’ this winter. These huge gatherings actually occur all over the country, and we want your help to find out where they are! We’ve set up an online map and form, so let us know if you see a murmuration this winter. Be sure to obey all covid-19 travel restrictions though," they say.  Read more here. 

They explain about murmurations.

"They roost together in large numbers every night, but it’s the aerial dance beforehand that we refer to as a ‘murmuration’, so that bit isn’t always guaranteed. These mesmerising movements across the sky, twisting and turning and creating all sorts of unimaginable shapes and patterns, have the effect of signalling to other Starlings to where they should roost, but it also makes it very difficult for predators to focus in on any one bird. These huge flocks regularly attract a who’s who of birds of prey – Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and even Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls.

"If you see any birds of prey at your local murmurations, be sure to include the details and species when you submit your record.

"Scientists have done a lot of work to figure out exactly how Starlings manage these aerial displays without crashing into each other. Instead, their movements appear coordinated, while seemingly moving in random directions and being able to react quickly and get out of the way of a stooping Peregrine or a Sparrowhawk whizzing by. Flocks split and merge, move left and right, up and down, high in the sky before suddenly dropping low over the ground, all without a single collision. Thanks to the combined efforts of behavioural biologists, computer scientists and theoretical physicists, we now know that each Starling is reacting to the movements of the nearest seven or so neighbours in the flock. If every Starling is doing that, then you get the pulses and waves, and quick reactions that we’re often treated to in these murmurations."

"Many of these Starling roosts can number tens of thousands of individuals. The Irish-breeding population has recently been estimated at around 2 million individuals, and if you add in this year’s juveniles you’re talking at least 3 million ‘Irish’ Starlings. In winter though, our Irish-breeding birds are joined by Starlings from as far away as Russia, Finland, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the UK. Ireland is one of the few European countries with a stable Starling population, so let these magnificent murmurations be a reminder of how lucky we are to have them!"