What is a murmuration and where are the best places in Britain to see one?

Where are the best places to see starling murmurations in Britain? Flock to the countryside this winter for one of Britain’s most spectacular bird ballets with our pick of the starling hotspots

 

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What is a murmuration?

It’s been called the greatest wildlife spectacle in Britain, compared by birder Bill Oddie to anything on the Serengeti Plains of Africa.

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It’s thought that starlings congregate in these remarkable ‘murmurations’ to deter possible predators, which are confused by the swirling masses. Despite a recent drop in their overall population, you can still witness the mesmerising sight of thousands of birds performing their aerial dance at dawn and dusk. Here’s where to see them.

Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, single bird standing on sea weed, Lothian, Scotland, winter 2009
It is thought that starlings group together to confuse predators ©Getty
1. Middleton Moor, Derbyshire

Between October and March, up to 100,000 starlings swarm in from the surrounding countryside to the reed-fringed tailings lagoon of a Derbyshire fluorspar mine at Middleton Moor. Watch awe-inspiring masses fill the sky with ever-changing, abstract clouds.

2. West Pier Brighton, Sussex
Sunset at the West Pier, Brighton with a starling murmuration in full swing
40,000 birds congregate at West Pier ©Getty

Perhaps the most famous starling murmuration in Britain takes place around the skeletal, derelict West Pier on Brighton’s stony seafront. Up to 40,000 birds arrive from as far away as Scandinavia to winter alongside their native cousins on the pier. Find out more.

3. Gretna Green, Dumfries and Galloway

There was a time when only eloping couples flocked to Gretna Green on the English/Scottish border. Nowadays, it’s the aerial visitors that attract most attention, with magical displays of up to 50,000 birds.

4. Ham Wall, Somerset
Murmuration at dusk fills sky with huge numbers of birds at Ham Wall National Nature Reserve in Somerset, UK

RSPB Ham Wall on the Avalon Marshes (pictured) is a starling hotspot. Thousands of birds – many of which migrate from the colder climates of Northern Europe – congregate in the roadbeds overnight. Find out more.

5. Leighton Moss, Lancashire 

The skies above the bittern-haunted reedbeds of RSPB Leighton Moss near Silverdale turn black at dusk and dawn. Enormous flocks of starlings wheel, turn and swoop through the air, before dropping down like stones to rest for the night. Find out more.

6. Albert Bridge, Belfast

City murmurations don’t come much better than those at Albert Bridge in the centre of Belfast. On winter nights, hundreds of thousands of birds gather noisily together to roost. 

7. Aberystwyth, Ceredigion
Starling murmuration, one of natures most dramatic displays, over the Royal Pier on North Beach, Aberystwyth, Wales.  Starlings come together in great numbers as the light of the day starts to fall and perform a magical aerial dance before swooping under the pier and settling down for the nights roost.  There are a few theories as to why the Starling do this, including protection from predators, but no one is really sure.
Watch starlings come to roost as the sun sets ©Getty 

This Welsh resort on Cardigan Bay offers another opportunity to see the birds – there’s even a local hotel called The Starling Cloud. Thousands of starlings fly in to roost under the town pier, engaging in a wonderful choreography of synchronised aerobatics. Find out more.

8. Westhay National Nature Reserve, Somerset

This nature reserve is one of the best locations to view millions of starlings as they swirl and swoop across the landscape. Find out more.

9. Fen Drayton Lakes, Cambridgeshire

Nine thousand starlings begin their display at dusk over these beautiful lakes. Find out more.

Ever wondered about the science behind starling murmurations? Find out more here.

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Main image ©Alamy