Starlings (common starlings) are birds that are resident to most of the UK and they can be seen all year round, though more arrive in the autumn to spend winter with us. Starlings can also be found over Europe, Asia and Africa.
Living in groups, starlings are very social and boisterous, and they can often be seen in gardens. They are smaller than blackbirds, more upright, with a pointed head, sharp pointed beak, and a short tail. They can appear black from afar, but get close enough and starlings are very colourful and iridescent.
In breeding plumage male starlings have a slight blue grey blush at the base of their bill, and the females have a pink blush. Juveniles are light brown grey, with a dull bill, before they moult and grow adult plumage.
My Dad calls Starlings harriers, because when they are coming in for a landing they remind him of harrier jump jets! They do fly fast and direct, and their wings are pointed and triangular. (My Nan however use to call them gobble-de-gooks, possibly due to their feeding habits!) On the deck, Starlings walk or run rather than hop.
If you take the time to watch your Starlings, you’ll see they are comical, and excellent mimics! They can imitate some other bird species (Blackbirds, Pied Wagtails, and Magpies) and other sounds like phones.
They eat mainly fruit and insects (including many pest insects), but they are omnivorous and can also eat seeds, suet, and more. Chicks are fed insects. Starlings use their beak to probe the ground; they have the ability to open their beak in the ground to part the soil and reach buried food. They can actually look down and see what’s inside the parted soil, inside their own beak. They can do this due to big muscles for opening the jaw, and a narrow skull shape.
Starlings can descend on a garden in flocks and very quickly gobble up any bird food provided, personally I enjoy watching this, but it can feel like it’s hurting my wallet. To make sure small birds get a look in, an enclosed feeder which excludes the starlings could be used. Starlings also have a hard time on traditional hanging feeders.
I love it when the fledglings are in the garden, and watching both parents run up and down grabbing full beaks of food and shoving it into their young gaping mouths.
Starlings breed from April to June, and they can rear two broods if they’re lucky. They nest in holes in trees or buildings; it’s the male that starts it with some grass, then the female makes it comfy but lining it with moss and feathers. Starlings will use nest boxes, and I intend on getting, or making, some for them. They need a hole diameter of 45mm.
When in a flock, starlings have the wonderful ability to form murmurations. It’s easier to show one, that to try and describe it!
[Click here to watch on YouTube if video did not embed This is the only content that is not mine. Credit to Matt on YouTube]
It’s an aerial display of flying prowess! Thousands of birds flying in perfect unison. It tends to occur when starlings form autumn roosts, they fly together before settling down for the night, possibly exchanging information on feeding grounds. There is also safety in numbers and it’s thought the displays make it harder for predators such as the peregrine falcon to target a single bird. In the UK, according to RSPB website, early evening just before dusk is the best time to see them. Some of the RSPB reserves are good murmuration sites.
Declining numbers make starlings a conservational priority; they are currently on the red list of threatened species, though they are still one of our most common garden birds. Reasons for their decline may include; changes to farming practices and land management, fewer nesting sites due to development, and less food due to pesticides.
Consider welcoming them to your garden and enjoy their antics, and the cheap pest control. To encourage them provide some food and water. They prefer short grass to forage in, and if you can, a few nest boxes would help. Attracting more insects attracts more birds, so planting with this in mind would also be beneficial.
Follow my blog, click the button in the sidebar, and follow me on twitter