The Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a bird that is often overlooked as it chatters away on TV aerials and rooftops. I thought they would be common as muck right? Turns out I was wrong. The Starling is currently on the ‘Red List’ in the UK, which means that their numbers are a cause of concern. They really need our help.
They are quite small and slender birds and from a distance, they look black. However, as you can see from the photograph above, they are actually really detailed, with slick purple, green iridescence and white flecks.
They are a social species and you will often find them in flocks, squabbling among themselves – they are very vocal. A confident bird in the garden, they will often be seen on any available feeders. Their long, sharp bill is excellent for probing. One of their specialisms is searching for soil-dwelling invertebrates such as leatherjackets (the larvae of craneflies), they insert their bills into the lawn and then prise it open. This allows them to open up the dense turf and catch their prey.
Something else that has been spotted in Starlings are the morphological changes that occur when they change their diet. In summer, Starlings move from a largely invertebrate based diet to one that contains more plant matter. Research has shown that their intestines grow in length, in order to digest the plant material.
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 on top of the Laburnum tree was a Starling serenading me. I was watched its throat pulsating as a mixture of clicks, squeals and chirps came out and carried on with my task at hand. I suddenly heard a Curlew, a Buzzard, then a Tawny Owl and some Swallows. I eagerly searched 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 confusion.
No doubt then, that Starlings are good mimics. 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.
Did you know?
Famous composer Mozart had a pet starling which could sing part of his Piano Concerto in G Major.Woodland Trust
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.
They fill the sky, up to 10, 000 of them in some cases. 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. Confusing predators (such as Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) which find it difficult to single out one bird as prey). A large roost also raises the surrounding air temperature, helping the individual birds survive the bitter winter nights.
Watch the video below to see this in action.
BTO (2021) Understanding birds. https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/species-focus/starling Accessed 26th July 2021
Keene J, Jenkins PF, Hausberger M. (1991). Species-Specificity and Mimicry in Bird Song: Are They Paradoxes? a Reevaluation of Song Mimicry in the European Starling. Behaviour, 117(1-2): 53–81. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/156853991X00120 Accessed 26th July 2021.
RSPB (2021)Starling murmuration. https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/starling/starling-murmurations/ Accessed 26th July 2021/
RSPB (b) (2021) Super starlings. https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/let-nature-sing/the-chorus-hub/super-starlings/ Accessed 26th July 2021
Woodland Trust (2021) Starling. https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/birds/starling/ Accessed 26th July 2021