The "murmurations" of starlings, now in season for 2014, are a hot topic of research. While some try to explain the formations using 3D mathematical models, other researchers are calling on the public for help.
Dr Anne Goodenough, an ornithologist at the University of Gloucestershire and her colleagues have launched a Starling Survey, in collaboration with the Society of Biology. They are asking members of the public to report murmurations using an online form. It has been running for one week, and results have already started to flow. When they witness a murmuration, citizen scientists can visit the page and answer a few short questions, such as where and when it took place, how long it lasted, and how many birds were involved.
Part of the power of the survey will be repeated observations. "We're encouraging people, if they happen to see a murmuration regularly, to give us those regular sightings rather than thinking that particular flock has been accounted for," Dr Goodenough explained.
"We're interested in each and every murmuration event."
Using all of this data, the project will build up a map of how murmurations of various sizes are distributed around the country. This is exciting, Dr Goodenough explained, because it casts the net much wider than known hotspots, like Brighton's West Pier and Gretna Green near the Scottish border.
Although still a common species, the starling population in the UK is estimated to be less than a quarter of what it was 50 years ago. Dr Goodenough emphasised that the survey is not investigating the decline specifically, but its findings will certainly be useful for conservation efforts. Read full article