Thursday, January 27, 2011

Starlings



My mother loathed starlings (sturnus vulgaris). She'd always put out bread for the birds, but then spend hours chasing off the starlings. Bullies she called them, only interested in "stealing" food from the little sparrows. Anthromorphism rules, OK.

There no longer seem to be either sparrows or starlings in my Lonon garden. I've posted before about the sparrow decline in London (they're still going strong in Milan fortunately), but the lack of starlings is odd. Because they're still in the area - the car park of our local supermarket is full of them. The cars don't daunt them in the slightest...


Why have they abandoned our area of parkland and gardens to move into a trading estate? No idea. Wouldn't have thought that an Asda car park was that rich on pickings. Could be the MacDonald's next door I suppose ...

Oi Bert! Them kids 'ave just dropped a carton. Sling us over a chip, would yer...

But perhaps it's not just that. According to the BBC Wildlife website, the population of starlings has dropped by 92% on previous figures. That certainly tallies with what I've seen in the garden.

Starlings are sensible birds. Some migrate, some don't - it depends where they live and what the winter conditions are like there. Birds from eastern Europe, where temperatures are harsh, will migrate, either to milder climates like Britain (is that why I no longer notice them so much - because I'm only there in the summer when numbers are reduced to the residents?) or south, to the real warmth. Here in Italy we see huge flocks arriving every year. Both in Milan and Rome, the sky outside the main station is often dark with them, and the air shrill with the squawking of up to 100,000 individuals. I wanted to make a video of them this year but (of course) missed them and had to make do with a few photos. During a walk down the Martesana canal in November, I noticed that they were gathering. Numbers were puny in comparison to some flocks that I've seen, but still dangerous. I had to go home and wash my hair afterwards...


Yet even a few who live in more temperate climes will sometimes up and go.
The RSPB site says "These birds are residents, and most never leave us..." - which presumably means that some do. So how do they decide ?

- Eh Fred. Decided what yer doin' fer yer 'olidays?
- 'allo Charlie. Well, yer know, things 'ave bin a bit tight recently. Me 'n the missis thought we might just stay at 'ome 'n 'ave a few days out. You?
- Oh going down ter Majorca fer a coupla months with the gang. Yer know who I mean?

Those that decide to stay at home sometimes find themselves in trouble when unexpectedly hard weather comes. This one, with 25 cms of snow on the ground, was reduced to attacking the feeders for the tits on my sister-in-law's balcony in Northern Germany this Christmas.


So if you've got some in your area, take no notice of my mother's prejudices. They're no longer the common garden bird that they once were. Ignore the pompous, aggressive strutting and squawking, and focus on that gorgeous metallic sheen on the plumage. Losing the starling would be as great a loss as losing the Bengal Tiger in my opinion. So put out some food and don't chase them off. Even starlings have to eat...

7 comments:

Jan said...

I love starlings, and always have. They're such noisy, chatty, sociable birds, and the shine on their feathers is to die for.

Bliss Knits said...

Oh, I LOVE starlings. They're like leggy teenagers strutting about with not a care in the world!

We had EIGHT on the bird table at the same time this morning - normally only one or two. Party time!!!

beth said...

Sue, I love the way the birds move together in the sky. The almost look liquid to be sometimes. I would love to see a video if you could catch one next time. The photo was a beautiful substitute. Happy birdwatching!

Plantaliscious said...

I, too, love starlings, they remind me of those insecure teenage boys you see strutting around showing off for the girls, squabbling amongst themselves. I also think they are pretty birds, but rarely see them in my own garden any more. I'm hoping there will be more around at the allotment site.

mike 'hazeltree' thompson said...

Hello Sue, i never knew that starlngs had cockney accents, i always assumed they spoke in dorset drawl! :) we have fewer in the garden than before but still have the awesome sight of thousands coming to roost together and filling the skies in flight...lovely post...

Alistair said...

Hello Sue,Here in Aberdeen starlings and sparrows have become scarce. Strangely the less common birds visit much more often than they did in the past. Now if I were to blog in my Aberdeen tongue you would, like everyone else be absolutely lost, I am going to do it one of these days. Finally got someone else to join you in placing a picture of their garden on my site.

Kerri said...

Blimey, Cockney Starlings! Who'd a thought? :)
You made me chuckle :)
I see just a few at the feeders during the winter, but come spring, they'll be here in larger flocks, along with red-winged black birds and grackles. After the initial burst of activity (which lasts a couple of weeks) they spread out to nest and find food elsewhere....although not forsaking our feeders entirely.
That iridescent sheen on their feathers is beautiful...fun to try and catch with the camera.
I can't say I love them when they're being a nuisance but I do often share your sentiment...starlings have to eat too :)
Thanks for visiting. Nice to hear from you.

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