PEI·Video

Starlings provide air show over Charlottetown bridge

Motorists driving across the Hillsborough Bridge at dawn or dusk these days are treated to a spectacular display of flying acrobatics over Charlottetown Harbour. Thousands of European starlings are moving in, they use the bridge to roost during the winter months.
Birder Dan McAskill has counted up to 10 thousand European starlings roosting under the Hillsborough bridge during winter.

Motorists driving across the Hillsborough Bridge at dawn or dusk these days are treated to a spectacular display of flying acrobatics over Charlottetown Harbour.

Thousands of European starlings are moving in. They use the bridge to roost during the winter months.

"They'll come in and sit on the steel underneath the bridge," says well-known Island birder Dan McAskill.

"What they're trying to do is find a warmer spot. So there's very large numbers, there's thousands of them here 
and they'll keep a little bit warmer under the bridge than if they were outside." 

While the numbers are impressive, it is the path they take to get under the bridge that amazes. 

They arrive at dusk in small groups of up to 100 from different areas areas around Charlottetown. The birds continue to circle above the bridge as the numbers build to the thousands.

Each new group adds to an impressive air ballet where the entire flock moves as one.

"When one bird moves in one direction they'll all move in that direction, and they'll flash different colours depending on the light conditions, and that's a defence against the hawks," said McAskill.

The starlings are a prime food source for the raptors, and moving in formation and changing colour distracts the predators.

Up to 10,000 starlings have been counted under the bridge during the annual Christmas bird count. 

Overall, McAskill says the number of starlings on P.E.I. is dropping. Researchers are not sure why. The drop in population applies to a number of different bird species.

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