Where have Brighton's starlings gone?

Mutterings over lack of murmurations

A small group of starlings flying over the West Pier on Tuesday, December 11

This larger murmuration pictured in 2008 is still a shadow of what it used to be

First published in News by

They put on an awe-inspiring performance for the people of the city each year.

But the magical and synchronised acrobatic display from thousands of starlings, known as a murmurations, above Brighton’s West Pier may be ending as worrying figures show up to 40 million have disappeared from Europe since 1980.

These photos, taken yesterday (December 11) and at the same time in 2008, appear to show the bird population’s dramatic decline.

Diminishing food supplies, a lack of nesting spaces and changes in agricultural practices, such as using pesticides in soil, have contributed towards the drop.

On their yearly visit to Brighton from eastern and northern Europe, the starlings mix with local birds above the West Pier to form a cloud-like formation.

Falling numbers

Samantha Stokes, from the Royal Society for the Protection for Birds, warned of the starlings’ falling numbers.

Nesting She said: “Starlings are still a plentiful bird but their numbers are falling alarmingly.

“They are such lively, chirpy birds and are among the species that are regularly seen in gardens up and down the country, although to see a murmuration as dusk falls is a real treat.”

Paul Stancliffe, spokesman for the British Trust for Ornithology, said starling populations were declining in mainland Europe and the British Isles.

He said most of the birds performing for spectators at the West Pier are from Continental Europe.

But he added the biggest problem was with the number of breeding birds in the UK.

Blocking holes

He said: “As well as farming changes, one of the problems is also nesting space.

“We’re refurbishing old properties and making them more energy efficient, meaning we’re blocking holes and crevices where they used to nest.

“We can help them by putting up nesting boxes on the side of our properties or in the garden.

“An appropriate box should have a 45mm entrance hole and they would really appreciate it.”

The UK population has fallen by a shocking 80% since 1979, meaning they are on the critical list of UK birds most at risk.

During the murmuration, the intelligent animals watch one another to establish who looks the healthiest as a result of feeding the best.

Once they’ve found a target, they will stay with them until the next day in confidence they will too be rewarded with a hearty meal.

Talking point: What do you think is causing the decline in starling numbers? Do you miss seeing the starlings? How have you tried to help out Britain's native birds?

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Comments (5)

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5:02pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Perseus says...

The immigrant starlings seem to have a run of bad years this century. Thousands used to land on Shoreham beach, but now it is just hundreds. Sussex Ornithological Society &/or Shoreham & District Ornithological Society will know the numbers?
The immigrant starlings seem to have a run of bad years this century. Thousands used to land on Shoreham beach, but now it is just hundreds. Sussex Ornithological Society &/or Shoreham & District Ornithological Society will know the numbers? Perseus
  • Score: 0

5:33pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Fercri Sakes says...

In Brighton it's obviously due to the condition of the West Pier. The murmurations dropped to around 20% (my own observations) when the pier burnt down as it just doesn't offer protection from the elememts anymore.

£20K of boarding across the south west of the pier would bring back lots of numbers - and maybe a few tourists too. I've been saying this for many years on this site and yet to have somebody agree with me :)
In Brighton it's obviously due to the condition of the West Pier. The murmurations dropped to around 20% (my own observations) when the pier burnt down as it just doesn't offer protection from the elememts anymore. £20K of boarding across the south west of the pier would bring back lots of numbers - and maybe a few tourists too. I've been saying this for many years on this site and yet to have somebody agree with me :) Fercri Sakes
  • Score: 0

8:48pm Wed 12 Dec 12

worthingite says...

The picture in The Argus looked like it was taken at midday !!!

We know they only come at at dusk.....
The picture in The Argus looked like it was taken at midday !!! We know they only come at at dusk..... worthingite
  • Score: 1

1:12pm Thu 13 Dec 12

StyleCop says...

worthingite wrote:
The picture in The Argus looked like it was taken at midday !!! We know they only come at at dusk.....
Different angle dude - the first one is from the west side of the pier looking southeast - the second one (2008) is the opposite side looking southeast (setting sun is a bit of a give away)

- I live the west side of the pier and have noticed in the last two years the significant drop in numbers - I used to sit in my window and watch the murmuration hypnotic displays...

sad to see it in such decline - but I guess that's nature.
[quote][p][bold]worthingite[/bold] wrote: The picture in The Argus looked like it was taken at midday !!! We know they only come at at dusk.....[/p][/quote]Different angle dude - the first one is from the west side of the pier looking southeast - the second one (2008) is the opposite side looking southeast (setting sun is a bit of a give away) - I live the west side of the pier and have noticed in the last two years the significant drop in numbers - I used to sit in my window and watch the murmuration hypnotic displays... sad to see it in such decline - but I guess that's nature. StyleCop
  • Score: 0

2:05pm Thu 13 Dec 12

Sarah Booker Lewis says...

worthingite wrote:
The picture in The Argus looked like it was taken at midday !!!

We know they only come at at dusk.....
The picture was taken between 4-4.30pm on Tuesday. There is no murmuration before this time.
[quote][p][bold]worthingite[/bold] wrote: The picture in The Argus looked like it was taken at midday !!! We know they only come at at dusk.....[/p][/quote]The picture was taken between 4-4.30pm on Tuesday. There is no murmuration before this time. Sarah Booker Lewis
  • Score: 0

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