We admire these huge gatherings from a distance; however this week on a byroad in Lancashire I found myself bang in the middle of a feeding flock of at least 10,000 starlings. With my new found enthusiasm for social media, I rummaged for my i-pad, wound the windows down and snapped away; birds were everywhere, birdshit covered the car, and quite a bit splashed the upholstery inside. Every shot was different and interesting; I narrowed down to a dozen or so and posted a gallery on facebook. In case you saw them I've uploaded different ones here.
Until the industrial revolution starlings were patchily distributed in the UK. There was a breeding population in the South, boosted in winter by migrants from the continent, and another, larger subspecies was endemic to Shetland, Fair Isle, St Kilda and the Outer Hebrides. Starlings were absent from Ireland and much of Scotland. After 1830 changes in farming practice caused a population explosion, and they became regarded as vermin. My grandparents' generation regarded a murmuration as something ugly and sinister. Starlings can be useful to farmers-my flock were probably feeding on invertebrates that farmers can do without, but flocks can also consume huge amounts of grain and fruit. Since the 1960s numbers have declined by over 80 per cent in the UK, mostly because intensive farming does not provide enough invertebrates for many parents to raise their young.
In 1890 about 60 starlings were released in Central Park, New York, part of a mission to improve American culture by introducing every bird species mentioned by Shakespeare. Their descendents form almost half of the world population of 300 million birds, and over 1.5 millon are culled as agricultural pests in some years. They are not, however, to be found among the gulls and crows in Hitchcock, as they only reached California after The Birds was released in 1963.