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Starlings put on aerobatic display

During evenings last weekend I saw an enormous spectacle of birds outside of the north Fred Meyer parking lot. What seemed like thousands of birds were flying in unison, looking like a big black ribbon in the sky, then they would land on the electrical wires before taking off again. What are these birds and what makes them act that way?

— Maggie F., Medford

Those birds flitting about have caused quite a buzz in Medford's birding community as well as among others such as yourself, Maggie, who witness these evening displays of thousands of little black birds flying in unison without crashing into one another.

They are starlings, and what they are doing is something called murmuration.

That's not us stuttering here at Since You Asked Central, Maggie. Katy Reed from Wild Birds Unlimited in Medford is the one we turned to for today's birding lesson.

Murmuration is that bird ballet starlings do in the sky when they flock together and fly in such magnificent displays.

This particular murmuration has been seen recently in the intersection of Crater Lake Highway and Poplar Drive, as well as near Food 4 Less around Biddle and Morrow roads, Reed says.

Birder Jeff Tufts of Medford wrote in a local birding Listserv this week that he spied the murmuration Sunday evening near Food4Less and estimated it to contain 15,000 starlings.

"That guy's a good birder," Reed says. "I trust his judgment."

A recent video of a huge starling murmuration has gone viral. Find a link to it at the Mail Tribune's web site at www.mailtribune.com.

Now, for a little caveat about starlings that doesn't come with the requisite oohing and aahing for those who watch the video.

Starlings are a non-native, invasive species that is sweeping through North America by murmuration after murmuration. They are the bane of grain fields and can out-compete native species for food and space. Their presence is not considered a good thing by wildlife-integrity biologists who favor native species over non-natives — regardless of how cool their flying is.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.