The Starling; A Master Mimicker and Murmuration Extraordinaire.

The Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a bird that is often overlooked as it chatters away on TV aerials and rooftops.  Common as muck you would think right? Wrong. The Starling is currently on the ‘Red List’ in the UK, which is a cause of great concern. They really need your help. 

They are quite small and slender birds and from a distance look black. However, as you can see from the photograph I took above, they are actually really detailed, with slick pink, purple and green iridescence, as well as white flecks. 

They are a social species and you will often find them in flocks, squabbling among themselves – they are very vocal. They are a confident bird in the garden and will often swoop down and feed from various feeders available in gardens. Their long, sharp bill is excellent for probing. One of their specialisms is searching for soil-dwelling invertebrates such as leatherjackets, they insert their bills into the lawn and then open their bill, this allows them to move soil out of the way and catch their prey. 

A further super behaviour that has been spotted in Starlings are the morphological changes that occur when they change their diet. As the seasons progress, Starlings move from a largely invertebrate based diet to one that contains more plant matter in the summer. Research has shown that their intestines grows in length, in order to digest the plant matter!! How insane is that? So cool. 

 

Mimicry.

Starlings are well known mimics, but the accuracy of their repertoire was made clear to me whilst I was washing the car. We regularly have Starlings in the garden, and perched atop of the Laburnum tree was a Starling giving its all to the world. I was watching its throat pulsating as a mixture of clicks, squeals and chirps came out. All of a sudden I could hear a Curlew, then a Buzzard, then a Tawny Owl and Swallows. I was eagerly searching the sky for this bombardment of birds, but it was surprisingly empty. I slowly turned my head back to the Starling and sure enough, it was the culprit and it showed no remorse for  my disappointment. 

There is no doubting how good a mimic Starlings are. So if you are out and about and you hear a bird call that seems out of place, double check you are not overhearing the serenade of the Starling.

From RSPB
From Patrik Åberg Xeno Canto

Murmurations.

This activity is probably what Starlings are famous for. Thousands and thousands of birds flock together at dusk throughout the autumn and winter, in order to roost with safety in numbers. 

Their numbers, up to 10, 000, fill the sky and they move together forming fabulous shapes and forms, constantly changing, until they finally plunge down into their roosting site for the night.  They do this for multiple reasons including confusion of predators (predators such as Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) will find it difficult to single out one bird as prey) and to raise the surrounding air temperature, to help them survive the bitter winter nights.

Watch the video below.

From RSPB

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