One of Scotland’s winter wonders is taking place in the skies above Aberdeenshire, as innumerable starlings flock together to create their own dazzling displays of aerobatics.
The speckled black birds bunch together in massive flocks, known as murmurations, over the colder months – both for warmth and to ward off predators by strength of numbers.
The enormous flocks have to travel as much as 20 miles between their roosts in trees or tall structures to their feeding grounds, so form gigantic, swirling aerial ballets to confuse birds of prey.
The displays can be seen all over Scotland, including a number of hot spots in the north-east.
Craig Shepard, community engagement officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Bird’s (RSPB) Aberdeen office, said: “I’ve been speaking to a few people about the murmurations, and the place that comes up most is up around the Loch of Strathbeg, that seems to be a really good place to see them.
“Other locations where you would likely see a display would be north of Newburgh at the Ythan estuary, and the woodland around Banchory.
“Starlings usually feed on ploughed fields, eating worms, ground insects, fruits and seeds.
“The best time to see a murmuration is just after dusk, when they are returning from feeding during the day to roost in trees or other high-up structures like telegraph lines overnight.”
He said the display was nature’s way of protecting the species.
“A lot of the reason that they group up in such large numbers is to do with temperature, they need to be sheltered from the harsher weather so they all sleep together for warmth,” he explained.
“The other reason of course is safety in numbers. A bird of prey will find it much more difficult to pick out an individual bird out of thousands, and when they swoop in to attack all the starlings move away from the predator at the same time, sometimes enveloping it.
“Although you can get them over some urban locations, your best bet to spot a murmuration would be wooded areas or nature reserves – they really are spectacular”