© John Harding/BTO
1 Boost from European birds
Starlings use gardens all year round but in the winter our resident population is boosted by migrant birds from mainland Europe. Garden BirdWatch data reflects this with the number of gardens reporting starlings rapidly increasing from October onwards.
During the winter you may be lucky enough to see a starling murmuration. These flocks gather in the evening and perform amazing aerobatic displays before dropping into their favoured roost sites. Flocks provide safety in numbers for birds returning to roost as predators find it hard to target individual birds. In addition, they benefit from the warmth of other birds and the opportunity to exchange information.
3 Songbird decline
The starling population has undergone a long-term population decline throughout Europe. In the UK this resulted in almost an 80 per cent population decrease between 1987 and 2012. The decline is thought to be linked to reduced feeding opportunities due to changing land use practices. It’s not all bad news however, as both recent Garden BirdWatch and the Breeding Bird Survey results show a slight upturn in numbers.
4 Feeding adaptations
During the breeding season, starlings rely on invertebrates, especially leatherjackets (the larvae of crane flies) taken from short grassland, including lawns. In the summer and autumn, they take more seeds and berries and this seasonal shift is matched by a lengthening of their intestine to cope with the increased plant material, which is harder to digest. They will readily use bird feeders throughout the year.
Juvenile starlings are much duller than the adults. © Christine Matthews/BTO
5 Bad reputation
Quite a few garden birdwatchers complain about starlings because they seem to clean out a feeding station in minutes. Starlings do this as they evolved to feed quickly in flocks, rather than because they are greedy. It’s not their fault but it can get expensive so if this is a problem, try providing food, especially fat products, in feeders that exclude larger birds.
6 Glossy birds
While starlings appear black at a distance, close up they have glossy green and purple iridescent plumage. In the breeding season, adults have yellow bills with different colour bases depending on their sex; in males this is blue and in females pink. Their winter plumage is duller with white spots and the bill is dark. Juveniles are dull brown in colour, often with a pale throat.
The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) works in partnership with over 40,000 volunteer birdwatchers to chart the fortunes of UK birds.
Among the surveys that we coordinate is our popular Garden BirdWatch, the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world.
Each month we highlight a bird for you to look out for in your garden.
For more information about Garden BirdWatch or to speak to the Garden Ecology Team please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read previous BTO Garden Bird of the Month blogs.