Last February, I watched a starling murmuration over the river Severn. The sight of 40,000 birds forming huge moving patterns across the sky was amazing. My first thought was to reach for my camera. My second was to wonder if we could use citizen science to unravel the mysteries of the spectacle. Fast forward a few months and the #StarlingSurvey launched by the University of Gloucestershire’s Bioscience team and Society of Biology is proving a great success and has generated something of a media frenzy.
The survey asks for murmuration location, time, habitat, weather and potential predators. In the first 3 weeks, we’ve had >800 records – a map of the first 350 sightings is below and you can follow progress on the “murmuration map” tab of this blog. Already this is the most complete map of murmurations ever recorded!
As for the media? Well a press interview has been in 208 local papers from Cornwall to Dumfries and Kent to Belfast and several national papers too. Live interviews have gone out on 10 local radio stations and features in BBC Wildlife Magazine and Bird Watching Magazine are due out shortly. Oh yes, and television… …the story has been on BBC Breakfast 3 times and syndicated to BBC World where it has been shown as far away as Turkey, Canada and even Australia.
Then, last week, I headed south to film with CBBC Newsround at a murmuration hotspot – Brighton Pier – along with 3rd yr student Grace Lee-Smith. Everything was against us, especially the torrential rain, but as amazingly 10,000 starlings showed up to be caught on film. I did an interview and Grace did an amazing job fronting an extra “top tips” film for the CBBC website. Grace says “It was great to have to opportunity to be involved. It’s not quite lights, camera, action but it was still all very exciting! The Newsround guys were dynamic and friendly pair, and it was a pleasure to work with them!”
The last piece in the story so far was a trip to Manchester to appear live on breakfast Newsround bulletins on Monday. And the take home message from that experience? Those sofas aren’t as comfy as you think!
If you see a murmuration, please let us know via the survey http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/starlings. There is also a Google+ area where people can upload photos.
Dr Anne Goodenough
Reader in Applied Ecology