WHAT WE’VE LEARNED this issue 1949
The year that a flock of starlings stopped the hands of Big Ben
As shoppers browse the stalls at Camden Market, some of London’s wintering starlings swoop down to snap up morsels of food dropped in the street. “I noticed that they would arrive at lunchtime each day, as if they knew there’d be rich pickings,” says photographer Tomos Brangwyn. Sadly starlings are much scarcer in the capital – and other British cities – than in the past, mirroring the species’ nationwide decline in rural areas. “On winter afternoons in the 1950s and 60s my father used to gaze out of his office window and watch tens of thousands of starlings wheeling over St James’s Park,” says Tomos. “I still know of a few thousand birds that roost on the ironwork of Battersea Bridge, and Westminster Bridge and County Hall have about 50 birds each. But the vast city-centre murmurations have gone.” It’s a far cry from 1949, when the weight of roosting starlings stopped the hands of Big Ben for two hours.
Take part in the UK Starling Roost Survey at http://societyofbiology. org/starlingsurvey and follow Twitter updates using #StarlingSurvey.