Fight or Flight?
From out of the late afternoon mist they came towards me, like a dark cloud of ballerina birds. I stopped the car in the middle of the road that crossed over the estuary, hardly darling to breathe and not wanting to miss a single moment of the show. I watched as they vanished over the brow of a hill and thought the show was sadly over. However, they reappeared, changing shape by expanding and contracting to the whooshing background music made by the beat of their wings. There was no sign of a leader or a conductor and one didn't seem to be needed as each bird was in tune with the other. It was an amazing sight.
This pre-roost assembly of gregarious Starlings (Sturnus Vulgaris) gather in unison and I had heard they often do this as a sort of defence against birds of prey. Moments later as I drove dreamily across the deserted flatlands my view was replaced by a kettle of hawks and further on by a wake of buzzards. So the show was not for me, but to deter predators. Yes, my father was right on this one, where trouble is expected, it is safer to remain in numbers!
Although seen as a nuisance to many, the Starlings have always been welcome in our garden for waifs and strays and indeed, they come in their hundreds. The male will sing from the entrance of his nest, hoping to attract a female. He will also decorate his home with flowers and scented herbs which, when the female does take up residence, she will throw out all the paraphernalia to make room for her eggs. It is equally humbling and amusing and I admire such imagination in such a small bird.
The Mabinogion is a collection of stories from medieval Welsh manuscripts and in one particular tale, Branwen reared a starling at the end of her kneading-trough and taught it to speak. The bird helps Branwen by delivering messages to Wales. Certainly worth a read by those who are interested in mythical tales. Or perhaps they are true!