Wild Advent: Watch a Murmuration

murmuration starlings Dan Dzurisin flickr cc2 crop
© Dan Dzurisin, flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

The flocks of starlings over the winter create one of the most impressive spectacles of nature seen in the UK. From being a noisy, chaotic, chattering muddle, when it’s dusk, they gather in great numbers to roost. Moving as one, they take to the air, forming a pattern that swirls and shifts in the sky before suddenly all dropping back down to the land.

Starlings do always live in flocks, but it’s over the winter, when their numbers are boosted by starlings overwintering in the UK, that they reach these breathtakingly massive sizes. It’s believed that starlings live in a flock because there’s safety in numbers, and the more starlings there are, the less chance each one has of being taken by an airborne predator. It’s also possible that the heat from thousands of starlings roosting together can make the roost a tiny fraction warmer, which could save lives in extremely cold weather. Tracking starling movements shows that each starling moves around within the flock, trying to give itself the least time on the vulnerable edge as possible. Starlings have split second reactions, so when one starling chooses to change direction, the whole flock can move almost instantly, giving this mesmerizing display in the air.

The best place for you to try to spot a local starling murmuration is near a reed bed, a pier, or failing that, somewhere with trees, hedges, or buildings where you’ve seen starlings roosting. If the day has been bright, they may come in to roost later; if the day has been overcast, they may come in to roost earlier than sunset. Some nights they will come in to roost small group by small group, maybe flying in low, so there will be nothing amazing to see. Murmurations don’t seem to be affected by weather. Nobody is quite sure why some nights the birds put on a display and some nights they don’t. So, you may get lucky, or you may not. I’ll cross my fingers that it’s the former for you!


The starlings flying in a group move through the air seemingly as one. They turn on a wingtip, swirling through the sky. They take turns to fly on the outer edge of the flock, the place where it’s more dangerous. As a Christian community, how are we like this flock of starlings? How does this flock of starlings inspire us in our community life? We are called to be one body, relying on each other and caring for each other. Remind yourself of the words in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27 as you watch the starling flock.

Lord, as the starlings flock together in flight and in rest, show me how to play a full part in my own community, and to be cared for in turn. Amen.



Often we think of new things being brought to birth as coming from great periods of planning, painful organisational feats, and long waiting. Here are the starlings showing us a different way. They don’t sit down in groups throughout the summer, with a flipchart and markers, looking through endless powerpoint presentations, splitting up into focus groups, to work out the perfect flight pattern for their display. They move instinctively, guided by one another, and make it look effortless. Maybe we should sometimes listen to and be inspired by those who plan on the hoof, who are flexible creators, who may drive us crazy with their lack of a plan or attention to detail, but can free us up to explore new avenues we’d never have gone down otherwise. In Galations 5: 25 we read the words, ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit’- we need to follow the Spirit, wingtip to wingtip.

Lord, as I watch the starlings swirl, moving as one, I pray that your church may be one. Amen.


This post was an extract from Wild Advent: Discovering God Through Creation by Rachel Summers (Kevin Mayhew, 2017), 92 pages, £7.99. Used here by permission of the publisher.

Guest Post: Doing Faith and Science Like It’s 1718

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I was seated in the Bell Memorial Union at California State University, Chico, on a beautifully sunny fall day, interviewing one of my students, Giovanni, 19, who grew up in a devoted Catholic family and attended one of the finest Catholic high schools in the Silicon Valley before heading to Chico State.

These conversations always fascinate me because so many emerging adults—those 18-30 year olds among us (perhaps even reading this blog)—are declining to affiliate with any religion. When asked which box to check in response to “What religion are you?” 35-40% will mark “none.” I want to find out why. One key reason, noted by David Kinnaman of the Barna Group,emerging adults are becoming “nones” because they see the church as “antagonistic to science,” unwilling to take in, or take on, its insights and challenges. Continue reading

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom

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For me as a biologist, evolutionary and developmental biology – evo devo for short – is one of the most wonderful, illuminating, useful areas of study. In the last few decades we have gone from guessing at how things might have evolved, to having some actual mechanisms of how organs, and even whole organisms, can change. As a Christian, I am interested in this subject first of all because it’s fascinating. Having been freed by Biblical Scholars from feeling that I need to read the Bible as a science book, I can now go and explore God’s world using the tools of science, thanking him for all the incredible things I find. Secondly, this knowledge is incredibly useful. The more we learn about how our bodies develop and grow, the more we can treat disease. Continue reading

Litter: a fresh perspective on life under the leaves

Autumn leaves
© Ruth M. Bancewicz

Next time you take a walk through a forest, sit down on the fallen leaves, rustle a hole in the top layer, breathe deeply, and take in the aroma of fresh earth. Sterilised soil smells somehow wrong to our noses –  it lacks the homey feel of childhood dens and freshly ploughed fields. But on productive land, like an ancient forest or well-tended farm, it smells right. Our noses know what to look for – the rich earthy scent of microbial decomposition. Continue reading

Wild Lent: Discovering God Through Creation

sky-panorama-with-clouds-1479164-1598x485 Philippe Ramakers freeimages
© Philippe Ramakers, freeimages

Cloud watching

I love the sky, how it’s always moving and changing. Everyone has access to a little bit of sky, and no matter how messy and chaotic our lives can get on the ground the clouds blow past regardless Continue reading

Creation Groans, but God Hears

panther-close-up-1559931-638x425 Marco Luttenberg Freeimages
Panther by Marco Luttenberg, freeimages.com

Visitors to London Zoo last autumn stood enthralled, watching the family dynamics of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger playing out before them. The two newborn cubs, instinctively mischievous, repeatedly pounced and climbed up their 280-pound father, claws unsheathed. Crowds admired this tiger, built for predatory power, turning his obvious annoyance into gentle reprimands. The scene is reminiscent of Aslan the lion, whom C. S. Lewis used to capture some of the attributes of God—tender but also powerful and “not a tame lion.”

Today, these majestic cats are the focus of World Wildlife Day, along with the other big cats that are under threat on our watch—no, because of our watch. Habitat loss, conflict with people, and poaching are just some of the reasons for their drastic declines. There has been a 95 percent drop in tiger numbers over the last hundred years and a 40 percent drop in African lions over just 20 years.

Continue reading this article now (free, no signup required) in Christianity Today.


Guest Post: Scientists are childish (but in a good way)

child-1244531_1920Children are delighted by living things that most adults think are icky or mundane. Last spring my daughter Lucy, now age 6, found a large earthworm and named it Cinderella. She played with it for hours. Not a week later my son Josiah, 4, caught a big brown toad in our backyard and squealed repeatedly, “He’s adorable!” (Not everyone would pick that adjective, but I agreed.) They fixate on the fish tank at the dentist’s office or our family’s ant farm, taking in every detail and pestering me with a steady stream of questions.

Some of the questions they ask are profound. We were almost to school the other day when Lucy asked, “Is there any number bigger than infinity?” and then, “Is God bigger than infinity?” I paused, breathless with parental joy, before I responded. Continue reading