Country diary: starlings hold a modest gathering | Country diary

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Langstone, Hampshire: Pre-roost murmurations have been known to number as many as 100,000 birds, but many roosts are significantly smaller than they used to be

Walking along the foreshore, I occasionally spot starlings picking through the wrack-strewn strandline in search of invertebrates, or foraging for leatherjackets in the neighbouring pasture. An hour or so before sunset, small flocks begin to appear, gathering in the sky above the coastal grazing marsh, or wheeling out across the water towards Farlington Marshes, where they will find sanctuary in the reedbeds.

Starlings are typically a gregarious species, particularly during the autumn and winter months, when eastern European migrants join our resident population. In some parts of the country, pre-roost murmurations have been known to number as many as 100,000 birds, but due to population decline many roosts are significantly smaller than they used to be. Langstone Harbour’s evening assemblies have always been modest. I’ve never counted a flock more than 50 strong. In decline since the early 1980s, starlings are now red-listed as a species of high conservation concern. As a child, I delighted in watching chattering rabbles swarm my grandparents’ lawn, and squabbling over the leftover breakfast bacon rinds hung daily from the bird table. Nowadays, this is a rare spectacle.

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