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A quick guide to the Black Sun starling murmurations in Denmark

TIME : 2016/2/23 12:20:20
Starling murmurations (Shutterstock: see credit below)

A quick guide to the 'Black Sun' starling murmurations in Denmark

Every spring and autumn, starlings take to the skies over southern Jutland – creating one of Denmark's finest natural spectacles

Black sun: isn’t that something to do with the occult?
Er, no, not in this instance. We’re talking about nature’s Sort Sol (Black Sun) – an impressive avian phenomenon that happens every year, mid-March to mid-April (then again in autumn), in southern Jutland, Denmark. No Germanic neopaganism here!

So what is it then?

It’s the rustle of millions of wings, which darken the dimming sky. Or, for any film buffs out there, it’s the closest you’ll get to a real-life (but less scary) reenactment of Hitchcock’s The Birds. Just before sunset in spring and autumn, hundreds of thousands of European starlings gather from all corners of the skies to perform an impressive twist-twirl ballet, with the flocks almost entirely eclipsing the sun as it sets. The strange spectacle generally lasts for around 20 minutes.

Sounds rather odd – why do they do it?
These aerial acrobats are actually en route from Norway, Sweden and Finland to their breeding grounds in France, Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands. According to the RSPB, starlings gather like this, with such regularity, for two reasons. First, safety in numbers: predators such as peregrine falcons find it hard to target one bird amid a spellbinding cloud of thousands. Second, to stay warm and exchange information, such as where the best feeding spots are.

Huge flock of starlings over Aberystwyth Pier (Shutterstock)
Huge flock of starlings over Aberystwyth Pier

How can I see it?
Like everything in nature, the precise whereabouts of the ritual on any given eve isn’t easy to predict. That said, if you’re willing to trudge through the sludgy marshes of Tønder with a nature guide, your chances are greatly increased.

It only happens in Denmark then?
No, but it’s certainly an impressive place to see it. That said, the UK has its own hotspots: you can see marvellous murmurations (gatherings of starlings) at locations such as the Somerset Levels, Gretna Green and Brighton Pier (but only in autumn and winter) – see RSPB for details.

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