Nature Video

By Josh Saunders


A magnificent mass of birds has been filmed forming an dragon shape in the sky while escaping from predators.

A dark blanket covers the sky as over 150,000 starlings soar through the air at Ripon Racecourse in North Yorkshire.

PICS BY GARY LAWSON / CATERS NEWS 

The birds are looking to land in roosting ground nearby and while flying to their destination amass in force forming majestic shapes.

Videographer Gary Lawson, 47, described the murmuration as a ‘dragon’ as it tore through the sky and at times shrouded the spectators in darkness.

Despite attracting hungry sparrow-hawks, the starlings avoided becoming prey by forming tight air pockets that the predator couldn’t penetrate.

Gary said: “When it starts getting dark you can see the birds, all flocking together, it starts as a couple of thousand dotted around, coming together, and then they create a murmuration.

“It’s like theatre watching them all come in and feels like classic opera with the crescendo building and building, it’s different every time you go.

PICS BY GARY LAWSON / CATERS NEWS

“It’s a real spectacle and never gets boring, when the masses fly over your head you feel this whoosh of wind, the sky darkens even more and all you hear is the pounding of wings.

“There’s a pattern and rhythm, they form a ball shape, then the front will make a slight movement turning up or down then that cascades trough rest of murmuration.

“When they are creating those patterns in the sky I always thing if you were to put a pair of wings and fire up there it would look like a dragon floating through the skies.

“It’s like they are one organism, they become one, the symbiosis is incredible to watch.”

PICS BY GARY LAWSON / CATERS NEWS 

During the one-hour spectacle, the starlings flew 20ft over the heads of spectators before landing in nearby reeds.

Luckily the starlings avoided becoming dinner for nearby predators thanks to a clever trick where the birds create pockets around their attackers.

Gary said: “The reeds are up to four feet high so it puts the birds at risk of becoming prey.

“If there are lots of them all flying together it makes it all the more difficult for them to be caught and for a sparrow-hawk to pick one out.

“But the spectacle also attracts birds of prey, it’s like a cat and mouse, it’s pretty fascinating.

“In the zoomed-in photographs you can see one of the sparrow-hawks and the starlings create a circle round it to give it a wide birth.

PICS BY GARY LAWSON / CATERS NEWS 

“I’ve never seen a sparrow-hawk catch one to date, I’ve never seen it with my own eyes so their murmuration clearly works very well, for them there is safety in numbers.”

Gary took son Ollie, 13, to watch as the starlings made their remarkable patterns in the sky and at times directly over them.

He said: “At first, you can see the birds a distance away, heading towards you, then before they fly over the top you get this real calmness.

“Then suddenly it goes darker and it’s like a blanket of birds over the top of you, the noise is fantastic all the sounds of their beating wings, they are not tweeting or being vocal at all.

“In that rush, you can feel the downforce of their wings batting, it’s fantastic and a real treat.”

You can follow more of Gary’s work here.