In the last few years, noisy groups of adolescent starlings have become a feature around the Forum in Norwich City centre. Every evening from mid-summer onwards, 100-200 birds have collected together on the tower of St Peter Mancroft Church where their chattering regularly draws the attention of passers-by. The birds would leave well before dusk and so this was clearly a pre-roost gathering, but I was uncertain where the roost was located.
Numbers seemed to increase in the late autumn in 2014 and by November there were perhaps 350 birds present around the church on most afternoons. This starling flock was clearly not the only one in the city centre and, with increasing numbers of birds present, it soon became clear where they were congregating. By early January 2015 the citizens of Norwich were being treated to nightly spectacles of over 1000 birds performing their aerial dance over St Stephens Street. Appearing at just before dusk each night, the wheeling, turning and swooping flock was visible over a wide area with good viewing points at the junction of Westlegate and Red Lion Street, and from cars negotiating the St Stephen’s Street roundabout in rush hour. Just after the sun set, the starlings settled into their communal roost on rooftops between Surrey Street and St Stephens.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was not until the 29th of January that the spectacle was described in the local press (here) and NBIS posted links to video footage on their Facebook page. Subsequently the mumuration was shown on the BBC local news.
How unusual is this event?
The Norfolk Bird Atlas (Taylor & Marchant, 2011) states that starlings tend to be “less conspicuously urban in winter” and it appears that this is the first time – at least for some years – that a congregation of starlings of this magnitude has occurred in the city centre.
So where have they come from?
Has the local starling population significantly increased, or is it that an existing roost has relocated? Traditionally in winter, starling numbers in Norfolk are boosted by birds arriving from the continent but the Atlas notes that far fewer having been arriving in recent years. My impression is that there has been a bigger influx this year. But the increase in young starlings around the Forum in late summer could indicate that numbers of birds within the city are genuinely increasing. If this is the case, the reasons why are unclear. It will be interesting to see if the mumurations are a one-off or will continue in future years.
Whilst not the largest murmuration in Norfolk, the city centre starling flock has to be one of the easiest to see. I have enjoyed watching the birds, but it has been equally fascinating watching the reactions of shoppers and commuters. A starling mumuration appears to be one of our wildlife spectacles that literally stops people in their tracks.
Written by David White, Senior Green Infrastructure Officer with Norfolk County Council