The butcher bird and the starling spectacular

Great grey shrike at Hopwood

Great grey shrike at Hopwood

Some places just don’t seem likely birding hotspots… such as junction 2 of the M42! Yet just north of there, in a plantation just west of Hopwood, a butcher-bird has taken residence – aka a great grey shrike.

Shrikes hunt large insects and small animals; and if they catch too much, they store their prey by impaling them on the spikes of thorn bushes. Hence their colloquial name of butcher birds.

Despite this antisocial behaviour, they’re photogenic birds, and guaranteed to draw birders from some distance around. While I was watching, the shrike remained fairly distant, but it did come close enough to be within range of a decent photograph.

The starlings at Grimley have continued to put on some spectacular displays. It’s quite hard to decide which end of the pools to watch them from. Standing by the barn at the south end, I was underneath the murmuration several times as they passed over, so that it was a full immersion experience into Starling World.

Watching the starlings passing overhead was phenomenal

Watching the starlings passing overhead was phenomenal. Anyone want to count them?!

However, from the northern end, they are more distant but more visually stunning – especially when the starling cloud divided and merged, divided and re-merged.

Starlings over Grimley Camp Lane Pools

Starlings over Grimley Camp Lane Pools

Starlings over Grimley Camp Lane Pools

Starlings over Grimley Camp Lane Pools

Starlings over Grimley Camp Lane Pools

Starlings over Grimley Camp Lane Pools (Hallow Church is at lower right)

A few days ago, just before the display got going properly, I did catch sight of one of the reasons why the starlings behave in this way: a sparrowhawk cruising over the area. This particular group of starlings seemed to pass above.

It's his fault: notice the sparrowhawk lower right.

It’s his fault: notice the sparrowhawk lower right.

A cloud of starlings is a potential source of dinner for a hawk, so the murmuration is designed to confuse predators as to exactly where they are settling for the night.

2 thoughts on “The butcher bird and the starling spectacular

  1. These murmurations remind me of big schools of little fish that round up into big balls and move in unison – for the same reason.

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