IT IS A FREEZING cold, winter afternoon, but that doesn’t put visitors to the Newport Wetlands off. They are all ready and excited to see a gorgeous natural phenomenon – the starlings’ murmurations.

The common starling, also known as European starling, is a song bird. They are “legendary mimics” and have been heard mimicking cats, dogs, mobile phone ringtones and car alarms.

With a body length of up to 23cm and a wingspan of between 30 and 40cm, they have a short tail, pointed head and triangular wings. Starlings are said to look like a four-pointed star when flying – one of the hypothesis of where the name comes from.

Another theory is that, in winter, starling have pale spots all over their dark bodies. The white spots over their black bodies were thought to look like the night sky.

But what starlings are most famous for is their murmurations. During the winter, between November and March, starlings gather in huge flocks around the country.

It is estimated that up to 150,000 roost at the Newport Wetlands, with numbers starting to build from late October.

After spending the day travelling to find food, sometimes as far as 20 miles away, starlings gather in the evening and perform amazing aerobatic displays before dropping into their favoured roost sites.

We went to see their displays so, after a short presentation, the volunteer running the walk for the night – Jeremy White - takes us to the spot where they expect them to be.

The sun is going down and as we walk down the path, we can start to see the flocks of starlings arriving. Mr White tells us that flocks provide safety – predators find it hard to target individual birds.

In addition, they benefit from the warmth of other birds and can exchange information.

He explains that murmurations take different shapes, with the movement thought to help confuse and disorientate predators. The displays are at their most spectacular when a bird of prey such as a peregrine is hunting.

The starlings can be just as spectacular when they leave their roost in the morning, as tens of thousands of birds erupt out of the reeds at once. This usually happens about half an hour before sunrise.

After seeing them arrive, we stand still and wait. Arriving from different directions, they have started putting the beautiful displays. We can also hear them in the background, chatting away.

Daphne Varner, from Abergavenny, was one of the visitors watching the starlings.

The 77-year-old, who has been birdwatching in the past, said: “It is the first time I have come to this event and it is really good.

“It is really interesting and I enjoyed seeing them all coming in.

“I like being outside and seeing the wildlife – I love the sky.”

Sue Hunt, from Cardiff, agreed with Ms Varner.

She said: “It was nice, it was a chance to be outside and learn about starlings.

“I don’t usually go birdwatching, but I am an artist and quite a lot of my work is within the natural environment.”

She said as people have such busy lives, it is good to see the way nature carries on.

“It makes you feel better to be outside,” the 58-year-old said. “You see everything more clearly afterwards.”

After about 15 minutes, the murmurations start becoming less frequent as the birds start to find their spot for the night. It is nearly dark now and, as we walk back, it is getting considerably colder.

While walking back to the visitor centre, Mr White explains to me he has been volunteering at the Wetlands for six months.

He said: “When I was young, I was really interested in the environment and, after 40 years of working, I have been able to come back to it.

“Volunteering here gives me the opportunity to learn more about this fine place. It is a pleasure.”

Helen Gottschalk, visitor experience manager at the Newport Wetlands, said they have been running the ‘Soup and Starlings’ events for about five years.

She said they decided to start them because murmurations are a “wonderful spectacle” that doesn’t happen everywhere.

Ms Gottschalk said: “It’s special that it happens here at the Wetlands, in Newport.

“The ‘Soup and Starlings’ is one of our most popular events, together with other specialist walks we have.”

The manager said they only run the event in November and that each event has a capacity of up to 15 people.

“It is a way for us to raise funds, but also educate people,” Ms Gottschalk said. “Starlings are in decline so we want to help people understand what they can do to help.”

The starlings’ population has seen a dramatic decline of about 80 per cent since 1969 and, in the past 15 years, their numbers have halved.

The reasons for this decline aren’t clear but food sources and suitable nest sites are among the possible reasons.

“We can help them by providing next boxes and food, for example,” Ms Gottschalk added.

To find out more about events at the Newport Wetlands, visit