Look Up With Caution
November 27, 2002
On the photo above, a bank of stratocumulus clouds provides the contrast necessary to see on film the thousands of starlings congregating over north-central New Jersey. This photo was taken about an hour or so before sunset on a November day in 1999. Like a scene out of the Hitchcock movie "The Birds," these starlings partially darkened the sky on an already gloomy November afternoon. Considered by many people to be pest, hence the Latin name (Sturnus Vulgaris), starlings often gather in huge numbers in the late afternoon during autumn and winter as they prepare to roost for the night in trees or tall buildings. On occasion, the sheer weight of roosting starlings can bring down tree branches and even power lines. It's thought that cooler temperatures and decreasing amounts of sunlight trigger the gathering and roosting instincts. Birds are internally sensitive to photoperiodism, which allows them to differentiate between spring and fall by the length of the day.