Communal roosting amongst birds comes into its own during the winter months. Most people are aware of the spectacular pre-roost gatherings of starlings and the wonderful displays they put on as they gather at a favoured site. What is probably less well known is that several other species also roost communally in large numbers and put on just as impressive pre-roost shows.

Roosts of rooks can number in the tens of thousands; as they wheel in the sky, they form ‘smoke clouds’ of birds in the same way that Starlings do. Rooks hardly ever roost alone though and are often joined by hundreds, if not thousands, of jackdaws, leading to a much more evocative experience for the observer.  As individuals of both species in the flock call constantly to each other before falling silent in the roost, the resultant cacophony is amazing to hear.

Knot by Dawn Balmer

Both of these corvid species start to gather during the late afternoon before dropping into the roost site as dusk falls. For coastal waders, however, the timing for going to roost is governed by the timing of the high-tide. As the tide rises and the mud covers, flocks of waders can be seen wheeling around the sky, looking dark one minute as they show their upperparts in unison and white the next as the underparts come into view. The numbers involved can be truly awesome, with as many as 100,000 birds involved. These large flocks will largely be made up of Knot, Redshank and Dunlin but may also contain smaller numbers of other species too, including Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover.

Redshank by John Harding

You don’t have to travel to a far-flung corner of the country to experience roosting behaviour. Many of our villages, towns and cities will hold smaller roosts of Starlings and Rooks and, to experience the magic of a communal roost of pied wagtails, you often only need to visit your local supermarket or hospital. These buildings seem to provide just what a cold wagtail needs – some wasted heat, shelter from the wind and artificial light that makes it difficult for hunting Tawny Owls. Our gardens also provide safe roosting sites for birds. The nest box that was used during the spring and summer to raise a brood of youngsters might now provide a snug bed for the night for a single blue and great tit. These tits really do seem to prefer their own company during long winter nights but for wrens it is definitely a case of the more the merrier. The record number of Wrens found roosting in a single nest box stands at 62. If you turned your nest box camera off at the end of the summer it is worth switching it on again. You never know who might be using it as a winter residence. 

Gulls by Mike Weston

It is also worth casting an eye skywards from mid-afternoon onwards.  At this time gulls start to head towards a reservoir or gravel pit to spend the night, sitting in safety on the open water. Even the most land-locked of counties hold some impressive gull roosts that will contain thousands of Lesser-black Backed Gulls , Common Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and Herring Gulls, the composition of the flocks will vary in different parts of the country though. 

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by northernjock

    on 22 Jan 2013 09:54

    @16 Paul, sincere thanks for your reply, and sorry for hijacking your blog. It was through sheer frustration with the Beeb's total denial.

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by victoria burroughs

    on 20 Jan 2013 17:02

    There was a night time clip on tuesday 15th / Autumnwatch, where a group of little birds were shown roosting. Starting with a lone bird. then joined by another snuggling up, then a third landing atop the other two and forcing itself inbetween the two, to secure the warmest spot!! this happened at least four more times. Chris Packham commented that all the birds inthe centre spots were male and the outside birds female!!! LEASE PLEASE, PLEASE HOW CAN i SEE THIS CLIP AGAIN - it would be such a hit on you tube!!!

    Thanks Vicki

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by Paul Stancliffe

    on 18 Jan 2013 10:45

    Answering Northernjock. All you can do is make yourself heard and hope that it makes a difference. The Scottish dialect is beautiful.

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by Paul Stancliffe

    on 18 Jan 2013 10:42

    Answering the two Rook questions. A Rook roost will comprise of rooks from a number of nearby rookeries. At the end of the winter the roost will break up and the birds will return to thier rookeries for breeding. Right now some birds will visit the rookeries and start nest bulding and nest repair in readiness for the breeding season, however, these birds will still gather at the communal roost site.

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by Paul Stancliffe

    on 18 Jan 2013 10:36

    Answering Drucilla's Buzzard question. During the winter months Buzzards often congregate around good worm sites and I too have seen similar numbers in fields that contain good numbers of worms. Earthworms can make up a large percentage of the Buzzard diet during the winter months, and a good field can contain unusually large numbers of worming Buzzards.

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Paul Stancliffe

    on 18 Jan 2013 10:32

    In answer to Sheilagh Stones' question. Although there are fields close to the Rook's roosting site it is clear that these fields aren't providing what the birds need. During cold winter weather all birds need to save as much energy as they can, and if these rooks could find enough food closer to the roost they would certainly make use of it. There are obviously much better feeding opportunities in the fields further away.

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by northernjock

    on 17 Jan 2013 12:33

    Oh dear, still can't do it can you

    Producers; Presenters (apart from Euan that is).

    Here is your challenge for this evenings programme.
    Try saying the following
    1. Van GOGH with the emphasis on the german ich sound, ( see your own website for guidance http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/magazinemonitor/2010/01/how_to_say_van_gogh.shtml
    2. Bach as in the composer with emphasis on 'ch' sound again
    3. or like the j in Rioja, the Spanish wine.

    Now try saying LOCH properly please !

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by northernjock

    on 16 Jan 2013 10:00

    To Paul Stancliffe. Paul as you appear to be the only person who takes the trouble to reply to blogs, apologies for hijacking your blog. On behalf of many many people who have called Aigas centre and complained about the presenters mispronunciation of Loch and Cairngorm to name but two , we appeal to your production team to have the decency and courtesy of at least making an attempt to acknowledge the scale of the complaints your team are receiving. Myself and others I know have left countless messages with the poor people Aigas and they are at their wits end. The BBC's total lack of respect for the scottish language and culture is shocking

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  • Comment number 10. Posted by ~8dba65e4abfc459407abce347d43a87b5db3ebf2

    on 16 Jan 2013 09:48

    I enjoyed the porgramme mainly about rooks last night and have two questions arising
    one concerns the contents of the roost for example of the thousands of birds there are they the contents of more than one Rookery the other question concerns a rook 'parliament' and it is this, we live on the edge of the Kings Forest which is predominately coniferous in content and never do we get rooks here except two years ago in the Autumn we had a 'Parliament' we live about 4 miles from a very large rookery and our resident jackdaws join this for feeding. Anyway one day in early Autumn 2 years ago there were very many rooks in the Corsican pine trees on the edge of our garden they would sit there and then quite suddenly all rise in the air and fly about calling vigerously. Eventually they would settle down on the trees again and be quite with only an occasional remark. Thiswas repeated all through the day and jas never occured since. I suppose it was a rooks 'parliament' and I would be grateful if you could explain it.

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by patA

    on 15 Jan 2013 21:52

    We regularly have a Sparrowhawk come to our birdfeeders and grab a Starling. This started a couple of years ago.

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