Bird of the Month September - Starling
Starlings are garden birds that are met with mixed feelings. They have beautiful black glossy and spotted feathers, are a little smaller than blackbirds. They behave differently to blackbirds though, in that they are more sociable and run across lawns feeding rather than hop.
You may have noticed a group of them making a continual din of noise- imitating other bird calls and chattering incessantly. They are notorious too for creating a mess, fouling from a favourite perch like a TV aerial. Gardeners’ biggest gripe though is starlings’ bullying tactics at the garden bird feeder, keeping smaller birds like sparrows and blue tits away. Consider introducing an extra feeder or two - it will help reduce competition so more birds can feed at one time.
On the other hand, starlings do have their advantages.
They tend to flock in groups called ‘murmations’ and if you’re lucky enough to have seen a pre-roost acrobatic dance from them, you’ll appreciate what a fantastic natural phenomenon it is. On their own they are attractive birds too with beautiful feathers that are glossy and flash in the sun. Watching them bathe can be a wonderful sight.
What’s more, they are great indicators of pests in your garden. If you see a group of starlings on the lawn pecking at the grass, they’re feeding on root-eating leatherjackets, which you can then treat with nematodes, a biological, wildlife and children-friendly means to get your lawn back to good health.
Long-term monitoring by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) shows that starling numbers have fallen by two-thirds in the UK over the past forty years. Because of this decline in numbers, the starling is red listed as a bird of high conservation concern.
3 quirky facts
Starlings are opportunistic nesters. They’ll exploit holes in any suitably-sized interior or exterior nook or crannie. They’ve been known to nest in dryers and bathroom vents.
The acrobatic pre-roost dances are a spectacle and as the afternoon and dusk progresses, separate groups of starlings come together and numbers have reached up to 100, 000 in some places.
Starlings are mimicing birds and they mimic other birds and artificial noises. People have often been deceived thinking their telephone is ringing, when indeed it’s a starling chattering nearby.