About Starling Birds
The common Starling (Sturnus Vulgaris) is a medium-sized bird, that belongs to the family Sturnidae, who are part of the larger group of birds called songbirds. They have a sleek, black breeding plumage and their feathers often appear an iridescent sheen of purple, green and blue in sunlight. They have a short tail, pointed head and triangular wings.
During breeding season, the adult common Starling develops distinctive white speckles, giving them a speckled appearance. In their winter plumage the white flecks on their feathers are more noticeable. Their beaks are sharp and pointed, suitable for their omnivorous diet.
Starlings are a noisy and social bird who spend the majority of the year in huge flocks.
In the UK, the Starlings are still one of the most common garden birds, but their population decline puts them on the red list! Despite being commonly observed in gardens and various habitats, Starlings have faced challenges leading to their inclusion this list, which shows the urgency of implementing conservation measures and gaining a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to their decline.
The decline in Starling populations can be attributed to a combination of environmental and ecological factors. Loss of suitable nesting sites, changes in land use, and habitat degradation have impacted their ability to breed successfully. Additionally, the use of pesticides in agriculture has reduced the availability of insects, an essential component of their diet during the breeding season.
How can I help Starlings?
Did you know that between 1995 - 2018 the numbers of Starling in the UK fell by 53%? It is so important that we do everything we can to help Starlings, and other birds, continue to survive.
You can boost natural food supplies by creating ponds in your garden, planting wildflowers and letting areas of the grass grow long. This will increase the natural food sources and help Starlings eat all year round.
If you're looking for a simpler way to help, introduce a bird feeder or bird bath into your garden to give these birds a reliable source of food and water.
Do Starlings Migrate & where do Starlings migrate to?
Most common Starlings are resident birds, this means that they stay in the UK throughout the year.
However, a few of the Starlings that you may see over the winter may be winter migratory visitors travelling from Northern Europe to spend the winter months away from the harsh climate of their home.
When do Starlings leave the UK?
February and March is when our European Starling buddies pack their bags and head back to their breeding grounds. If you're out bird watching, you may notice a surge in Starling activity during this time frame.
The return of European Starlings to their breeding grounds in Europe, initiates a period during which they establish nesting territories, engage in courtship behaviours, and prepare for the upcoming breeding season.
The migratory patterns of Starlings are part of their annual cycle, demonstrating the adaptability and innate navigation skills that contribute to their success as a species.
What is a group of Starlings called?
A group of Starlings is commonly referred to as a "murmuration" or a "chattering".
This term is particularly associated with the aerial displays that large flocks of Starlings create when they fly together, forming intricate patterns and shapes in the sky.
The movements of thousands of birds in a murmuration are a remarkable and beautiful natural phenomenon.
Starlings & Murmuration
What is Murmuration?
A murmuration refers to the phenomenon where large flocks of Starlings move together in coordinated and synchronised flight, creating intricate and dynamic patterns in the sky.
It is display of collective behaviour that often involves thousands or even tens of thousands of birds. The sheer scale of these aerial displays, with thousands of birds moving as one, captivates bird watchers and researchers.
Why do Starlings Murmurate?
The behaviour of Starlings engaging in murmurations has intrigued researchers, leading to a deeper exploration of the potential benefits associated with this spectacular phenomenon. Flying in large, dynamic groups is believed to provide several advantages, primarily centered around enhancing the survival and social dynamics of the flock.
One key benefit is the challenge it poses to predators. The coordinated and unpredictable movements within a murmuration make it difficult for predators to single out and target individual Starlings. This collective strategy creates a defence mechanism, where the safety in numbers becomes a crucial aspect of the birds' survival.
Beyond the realm of predator avoidance, murmurations also play a significant role in reinforcing social bonds among flock members. The ability of Starlings to move in unison, seemingly without colliding, is still a mystery.
The sheer scale of murmurations, often involving thousands or even tens of thousands of birds, shows the importance of effective communication and collective decision-making.
Are Starlings the only birds that murmurate?
Whilst the population of the common Starling is well-known for its murmurations, they are not the only UK birds that engage in this behaviour of bring a million birds together.
Other species of birds, such as blackbirds and sandpipers, have also been observed forming murmurations, though they might not be as large or complex as those of Starlings.
When do Starlings murmurate?
Murmuarations are often observed during the autumn and winter months. Starlings will gather in the evening, just before dusk when they are getting near to roosting for the night. A murmuration will always take place over the Starlings communal roosting spot.
The exact timing can depend on factors such as weather conditions and the availability of food.
If you're interested in witnessing a murmuration, keeping an eye on locations where Starlings roost, such as urban areas or large trees, during the late afternoon or early evening can increase your chances of observing this breathtaking behaviour.
Starling Bird habitat
Starlings showcase a widespread distribution across diverse habitats, illustrating their ability to thrive in various settings. The resourcefulness of the Starling is shown through its presence across a widespread range of areas!
In urban environments, Starlings have become a familiar sight in city centres and towns and they love the amount of food scraps they can find in these areas. Their foraging instincts mean they are very successful at finding dinner in gardens and parks. Next time you're in the park, be sure to look out for the Starling!
Starlings are equally at home in farmland and agricultural areas. Here, they engage in foraging activities, targeting insects and grains present in fields. The agricultural landscape provides a different set of resources, and Starlings have evolved to exploit these opportunities, which is what makes them on of the most remarkably diverse bird.
Starling Bird Lifespan
The lifespan of Starlings in the wild is relatively short, with individuals typically living around two to three years. However, this average is influenced by a higher mortality rate among juvenile Starlings. Many young birds do not survive their first year due to various challenges, including predators, lack of experience in finding food, and exposure to the natural environment. The mortality rate tends to decrease for Starlings that successfully transition to adulthood.
Interestingly, the lifespan of Starlings in captivity can significantly differ from those in the wild. With the right conditions and proper care, Starlings in captivity may live longer. Some individuals have been reported to reach 10 years or more in captivity. The absence of natural predators, consistent access to food, and a controlled environment contributes to this extended lifespan.
Starling Breeding & Breeding Season
The breeding season of the Starling population takes place between April and June.
To find a mate, the male Starling will build a nest, made from leaves and dry grass, in the cavity of a tree, nest boxes or underneath roof tiles. Once the nests are ready to impress, the male will begin his task to find a mate, this will include singing and showing off his wings.
Once a female chooses the male, she will help him finish the nest. Then, by mid April, between four to five eggs will be laid. Both male and female Starlings take turns incubating the eggs, sharing responsibilities, the incubation period lasts approximately 12 to 14 days and then the young birds are ready to hatch! Once the juveniles are hatched, both parents will take turns finding food for the young.
Up to 21 - 23 days after hatching, the juvenile Starlings will leave the nest. Each season, Starlings breed up to three broods. This ability to raise several broods in one season contributes to the species' reproductive success.
Do Starlings use Nest Boxes
Yes, Starlings are known to use nest boxes or nesting cavities as part of their nesting behaviour. While they are cavity-nesting birds, they are also adaptable and will use a variety of sites, both natural and man-made, for nesting.
If you are keen on encouraging Starlings to nest in boxes on your property, creating nest boxes that closely mimic natural cavities can significantly enhance their appeal.
The design of these starling nest boxes should consider factors such as dimensions, entrance hole size, and placement, ensuring they align with the preferences of cavity-nesting Starlings.
What do Starlings eat? Should I use garden bird feeders?
Starlings are omnivorous birds with a varied diet. Their feeding habits can include a wide range of food items, and they are opportunistic feeders.
Here's a breakdown of what Starlings eat:
Insects and Invertebrates:
Starlings feed on a variety of insects, including beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and spiders. They may also forage for insect larvae found in soil and decaying wood, during the breeding season, they tend to rely on the larvae of crane flies to survive.
Fruit and Berries:
Starlings consume a variety of fruit and berries, especially during the summer and autumn. They are attracted to fruit like cherries, grapes, berries, and other small fruits.
Seeds and Grains:
Starlings feed on a variety of seeds and grains, including those from grasses and agricultural crops.They may visit bird feeders containing seeds such as sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn.
If you're considering attracting Starlings to your garden using bird feeders, it's essential to be aware of both the advantages and potential challenges:
A bird feeder can provide supplementary food for Starlings, especially during times of scarcity or when natural food sources are limited. Observing Starlings at bird feeders can offer a close-up view of these birds and their behaviours.
However, Starlings are known to be competitive at feeders and can displace other bird species. The presence of Starlings at feeders may lead to increased competition for resources, potentially impacting native bird populations.
If you find that the Starlings feed quickly and are not leaving any food for other native birds, try feeding your other garden birds early morning, as Starlings feed later on.
You can also introduce a mix of bird feeders, for example small meshed feeders are easier for small birds to feed on.
Starlings are hunted by a range of animals, but the main threat to adult Starlings are birds of prey, who prey on Starlings in flight. Domestic cats also pose a threat to Starlings!
In urban and suburban areas, starlings may face fewer natural predators but may encounter additional challenges, such as collisions with vehicles or buildings. The adaptability of starlings to human landscapes can lead to conflicts with humans and other bird species.
How to attract Starlings into your garden
Attracting Starlings to your garden can be a rewarding experience, especially if you enjoy observing their behaviours. Here are some tips to attract Starlings to your garden:
Starlings are omnivores and have a varied diet. They enjoy fruits, berries, suet, mealworms, and a mix of grains and seeds. Use platform feeders or ground feeders to accommodate their feeding habits. Scatter food on the ground or use low trays to make it easily accessible for them.
Offer a Birdbath:
Starlings, like many birds, enjoy bathing. Providing a clean birdbath with fresh water can attract them, especially during warm weather.
Create Nesting Sites:
Starlings are cavity nesting birds. Install birdhouses or nest boxes with suitable dimensions and entrance holes to attract them for nesting. Place these in a secure and elevated location.
Five facts about Starlings
Starlings are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 meaning it is illegal to intentionally kill or harm a Starling.
Starlings are skilled mimics and can imitate a wide range of sounds, including the calls of other bird species, mechanical noises, and even human speech. Males often use complex songs during the breeding season to attract mates.
In colder months, starlings often gather in large communal roosts, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands or even millions of individuals. These roosts provide warmth and protection from predators.
Starlings are beneficial for farmers because they consume large quantities of insects and invertebrates.
The plumage of adult Starlings, especially during the breeding season, is not simply black; it has an iridescent quality. In sunlight, the feathers can display shades of green, purple, and blue, creating a stunning visual effect.