Starlings – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

starlingsRoosts of starlings may involve many thousands  of birds and their flight just before they go to roost  can be spectacular especially if a bird of prey, such as a sparrowhawk  is harassing them.  Such large numbers of starlings even have their own name of “murmurations”. In contrast starling roosts can be very small and such is the case with the roost in our garden as it is in a doocot.   Interestingly although there is a wide variety of food put out daily from suet balls to peanuts and mixed seed to niger the starlings ignore these  and it is unusual to see a starling in the garden during the day.  The only exception is when they take a liking to suet balls, as in the photograph.   They come into the doocot at dusk and fly straight onto the ledge of the doocot before going into the holes to roost.     Around fifteen starlings are involved so some holes have more than one bird as there are only eight holes.    In the morning the birds behaviour is different as for along time they will sit on an old television aerial at the end of the house  and are often calling.

They will also mimic other birds and sounds which can be confusing.  I recall running into the house one morning as I heard the telephone ringing.  It turned out to be a starling mimicking the call.  The same happened with a bird that exactly  mimicked a lorry reversing.  Perhaps  my favourite one was earlier this year in early March when I went out early  only to hear a curlew calling,  I thought for a few moments the curlews had come back into the strath to their breeding  grounds but no it was far too early in the year and it was, of course, a starling imitating the curlew.  The interesting point is when the starling must have heard the call as it must have  been from the previous year.   The latest case of  the starlings imitating another bird was yesterday  when I went out and started looking  up in the sky as I thought geese were going over.  No, it was not geese but a lone starling sat on the TV aerial and exactly mimicking the geese that have been so much of a feature  of the last two weeks as they head south, calling as a contact call to each other.

At this time of the year many of the starlings  we see may be residents that have bred in Scotland earlier this year.  There are around 200,000 breeding pairs but in the winter the numbers are swelled to around  3 million birds as migrants come in from northern and central Europe.    However  despite  these large  numbers there has been an overall decline in the UK in recent years and this common species is now on the  red list of conservation concern.  This is because the numbers of starlings have fallen so rapidly.   What has been interesting this year has been the numbers of starlings, adults and juveniles, that have plundered the very large bumper crop of rowan berries.  They had the advantage of getting to this food before the large numbers of thrushes, redwings and fieldfares, arrived from Scandinavia.  Fortunately for these migrant thrushes  the rowan berries were so numerous that the packs of invading starlings seemed to make no difference.   However it did mean that the thrushes  have now had to move on because nearly all the rowan berries have now gone.   Meanwhile readers should listen for the mimicking calls of the starlings  when the bird often ruffles its throat feathers and its wings  waved energetically.