Unreliable starlings

For my NCTJ portfolio I decided to write an article on the starling murmation over  Brighton’s derelict West Pier.

Starlings migrate from Scandinavia to the UK in winter and at sunset they gather to perform a murmation to raise their body temperature before heading off to roost..

According to all the tourist websites this is an iconic Brighton sight so the first murmation of the year is big news. Well it’s news.

The Brighton Argus cover this story every November with a photo and a short article. This is their photo from November 2011

copy the argus

So all I needed to do was get a photo and some quotes.

The first murmation of 2013 was small and although visible to the human eye was unfortunately not too clear on my Lumix camera.

A wildlife photographer, Alan McKenzie, told me that the starlings roost for the night under Brighton’s Palace Pier and this was the best place for photographs so I went there next day at sunset.


The starlings arrived in groups and didn’t get together to form a spectacular murmation some decided to just hang-out on the helter-skelter.


So I asked Alan McKenzie if I could use one of his photos and wrote this article for my portfolio.

Brighton starlings

The iconic starling murmation over West Pier has started as the migratory birds arrive in Brighton but the species is under threat in the UK.

On most winter evenings just before dusk the starlings return from feeding and gather over the derelict pier. The spectacle draws tourists and photographers.

Alan Mckenzie, wild life photographer, from Brighton, said: “I could watch them every day and never get bored.”  He said the best place to watch was from Palace Pier where they have been roosting since the great storms tore down so many trees in the 1980s.

Migrating starlings arrive in the UK in autumn to escape the harsh winter of northern Europe and join our native starlings but the murmations are smaller than the corresponding time last year.

Sophie McCallum, RSPB representative, said: “They can be erratic but the peak is usually in mid December. It may be that because of the relatively mild weather it is happening later this year.”

She said the numbers of breeding Starlings in the UK fell by 82% between 1967-2003 and was put on the Red List of Conservation Concern. The reasons behind this are not yet fully understood but increased use of pesticides and a shortage of food and nesting sites are believed to be contributing factors.

Jess Price, Conservation Officer Sussex Wildlife Trust, said over the past 50 years many common birds have dramatically declined.

She said people can help birds this winter by providing high calorie food in their garden to help them keep their fat reserves up. Bird seed in feeders left on bird tables and hanging fat balls can all make a difference.

Starling Murmurationgimp

Palace Pier starlings copyright Alan McKenzie

Leave a Comment