Starling – Bird in Decline

It’s critically true. The starling, that loud and cheeky bird singing in large flocks each evening with its beautiful iridescent plumage, has declined by 66% since 1975. Here follows a description of the Starling and its habits and suggestions on how householders in inner cities, suburbs and rural areas can help the Starling to survive the first few decades of the 21st century.

Why is the Starling declining?
Despite the Starling being one of the most adaptable and tenacious of all bird species, its numbers have declined steadily since the beginning of the 1960’s. Enormous changes in fixed pasture and mixed farming production since that decade are a major contributing factor. Further, the vast increase in use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides resulting in a reduction in the insect populations all over Europe and the UK have impacted the number of Starlings breeding each year. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) estimate of only 800,000 breeding pairs in Great Britain coupled with the additional estimate that the juvenile Starling survival rate has dropped from 33% to only 15% is disturbing. It is an RSPB Red Listed bird.

How can we gardeners and householders help?
Resist the use of pesticides in our gardens and we can encourage the insect populations upon which Starlings depend, particularly in the spring and summer when this impacts the food available to nestlings and juveniles. Starlings will feed on these insects and assist in insect control and the survival of the Starling young. (The young birds are fed entirely on earthworms, spiders, insects and insect larvae for two weeks after hatching.) We can also provide nestboxes and nesting materials in our gardens, in trees and under our eaves.

What does a Starling look like?
The Starling is a little smaller than a Blackbird or Thrush. It looks black from a distance but seen closer they are dark green and purple, iridescent and glossy, sometimes with white spots after molting in early spring. It has a small pointed head and triangular wings. They are frequently seen in flocks in the evening and early morning which is a food hunting and defensive habit. They appear fearless and confidently wade into flocks of larger pigeons in towns and parks, eating, sometimes stealing the same food alongside the pigeons.

What will Starlings eat?
When 12 days or so old Starling will eat a varied diet including fruit, insects, some seeds, nuts even scraps. They will feed easily from a bird table alongside other garden birds and if you provide a bird bath with clean water (a DIY or purchased bird bath and bird table are just fine) you may be rewarded with the unforgettable sight of a loud and splashy communal bathing session – like kids in a pool! Keep a camera handy.

Nesting and breeding
The male will start building a nest of leaves and dried grass in a hole and begin to sing for a mate near the nest entrance. The female will complete the nest building task. They are not territorial, other Starlings will nest nearby. By the middle of April four to six eggs will have been laid, the eggs will hatch in around 12 days and the young will fledge after 3 weeks. Nearby Starlings tend to lay, hatch and fledge within a day or two of each other.

Make a nest box or buy?
Nest boxes are not expensive to buy and are quite easily made out of junk box materials – any shape will do, it does not need to be cubic or rectangular (maybe a plastic water pipe, sealed at both ends). Generically a box 6” x 6” x 8” (15 x 15 x 20cm) approx, waterproof and draught-free with a 2” (50mm) circular entrance hole is great for a Starling. Hang it 6’ (2m) or more above ground in a tree, against a wall under an eave. Position it near shelter to allow escape from cats and airborne predators. Face the entrance hole away from the sun, wind and weather (NE most likely).Finally attract Starlings by regularly placing food and water nearby. Be proud, be pleased, you’ve helped the survival of a species. Thank you.

Practical information and guidance on feeding, watering and the nesting of garden birds is available at Lifessense – Garden for Birds contact the author on the “About Your Garden for Birds” or “Bird Blog Posts” pages.

by Bridie

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