The Wildlifer

Starlings on the Willow Garden Wall May 2022

Common Starling Songster

Common Starling Murmuration

Common or European
Sturnus vulgaris 
Sturnidae (starlings)

I thoroughly enjoy it when the starlings come to visit the garden here. They stay for a couple of reasons primarily – the bird bath and the suet. They were frequent visitors during the spring and summer, although only occasionally have l seen them in my winter garden.

During winter, l tend to feed more suet pellets over suet balls, although the latter is still out. However, they are essential suet recipes compared to previous suet blocks l have had in the garden. The starlings were big fans of the suet blocks. They certainly made a significant mess with them.

I feed the birds all year round and always have fresh water available in the bird bath and the watering bath when possible. I say ‘when’ mainly because the water can freeze even with a ball during winter, especially when it is icy and freezing.

When the water is frozen, none of the birds can get access to water. So every morning, l go out with a kettle of hot water and a hammer and break the ice.
I see more starlings during the warmer climate in the gardens. They are a resident species in the UK, although some species migrate from northern Europe to the UK, arrive during September and October, and stay until mid-February to mid-March. The population of starlings grows considerably during the winter months due to these migrations.

Starlings are an extraordinarily gregarious, social, and noisy bird species that are frequent garden visitors and famed for their remarkable murmuration behaviour.
The starling’s colouring is principally glossy black, with shimmering speckled markings in green and blue that look like a deep mauve at times, and in winter, their coat changes marginally, and they display more white specks. Juveniles are more light brown. The adult’s beak is orange-yellow whilst the juvenile’s is darker.

Size-wise, they are very similar to thrushes but smaller than the blackbird. They are roughly nine inches in body length with a wingspan of around fifteen to eighteen inches and a weight mass of about 90 grams.

Their essential diet comprises fruit and insects, including but not limited to spiders, moths, ants, beetles, bees, grasshoppers, and earthworms, as well as frequenting garden feeding stations. Large flocks are often seen mooching around lawns and parklands in search of invertebrates, and it isn’t unheard of for this species to forage and hunt for larger prey like lizards, frogs and newts.

It is a very adaptive omnivorous species, and it has to be when you take into consideration the advancement of urbanisation and the ecological damage to natural feeding and roosting grounds. In addition to the invertebrate diet, it will also feast upon fruits, nectars, seeds and human food wastes.

They are mainly ground foragers and display three distinct feeding styles – probing – poking the beak into the ground to endeavour to capture an insect, lunging which is a run forward striking motion to catch an insect in flight or on the move on the ground and hawking which is the same movement but for flight.

The most favoured habitat for the starling is farmland, open fields, gardens and parks, and they are widespread in distribution across all of the UK except for the Scottish Highlands.

The breeding season is between March to April. The males are the primary nest builders and craft the materials into nooks beneath the tiles of rooves or holes in trees. They will also use nest boxes. A typical nest is made from feathers, leaves, dry grasses, and moss. A clutch is between 4 – 5 eggs laid mid to late April and will hatch a couple of weeks later.

Whilst they are a common species in the UK, their numbers have been in critical decline since the eighties. They are a bird species of conservation concern with a Red listing and they are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

Large flocks can number well over a million birds and this can cause concern, especially with the droppings. A smaller roost of birds can be seen as beneficial regarding droppings acting as a fertiliser to the ground. whilst a much larger flock is seen as a menace and harmful to woodland flora. Although large flocks are great for controlling pests, the downside is that they also cause significant damage to young crops and especially fruit trees.

The primary predation of the species aside from the destruction of natural habitats by urbanisation projects is usually larger bird species – sparrowhawks and falcons and kestrels too. Owls have also been known to hunt starlings. Domestic cats and managed culling schedules in agricultural zones are additional predators of the species.

Ever watchful adult starlings.

Some typical feeding habits of the starlings in the garden on the feeders.

Juveniles and adult starlings feeding and watching.

Starlings doing what they love best – splashing!

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Published by The Autistic Composter

Howdy Folks, Earthly Comforts is a broad niche wildlife journaling scrapbook focusing on the countryside, wildlife biodiversity and environmental conservation, flora and fauna volunteering projects, gardening, composting and vermiculture, also known as ‘worm farming and photography too.

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