Red List 2022 – Number Eight – Starling

Dear Readers, if you only paid attention to my garden you probably wouldn’t think that starlings were in trouble – they pop in every day, in spring they bring their fledglings and they provide entertainments for hours at a time. But sadly, I can remember when there were murmurations of starlings over the islands in St James’s Park in central London, and when the trees in Leicester Square were so full of roosting starlings that it was dangerous to the coiffure to stand underneath them. There has been a rapid breeding population decline, which, according to the British Trust for Ornithology, is largely due to intensive agricultural management, and in particular the lack of breeding sites – with old barns being knocked down and with new houses lacking the under roof tile cavities and other spaces where starlings used to nest. Starlings do take happily to nest boxes, however (particularly those with a 45mm diameter cavity if you fancy popping a few up), so both the RSPB and the BTO are keen for people to do so if they have the space.

In the breeding season, the male birds will attempt to guard some nest sites, and encourage several females to lay their eggs in them. Competition is fierce, and the males may end up with only female. The females, however, will cheerfully lay their eggs in the nests of other females if they can get away with it, so that another couple do all the work.The females that do this are usually unpaired females, or ones who haven’t found a nest site yet, but who have mated anyway. They may well settle down later in the season, but nestlings that hatch early in the year have a much better chance of success.

If you’ve listened to a starling at any point, you’ll know what a great range of sounds they can make. In Henry IV, Part One, Hotspur, enraged that the king has called his brother-in-law Mortimer a traitor, states that

I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak

Nothing but Mortimer and give it to him

to keep his anger still in motion”.

In other words, the starling will say ‘Mortimer’ until the King goes mad.

Mozart had a starling too, and he taught it to sing part of one of his piano concertos. The bird died a week after his father’s funeral. He didn’t attend that, but he did give the bird a full memorial service, a tombstone, and a poem.

Have a listen to the starling singing in my whitebeam tree last summer. Apologies for the background rumble!

On the BTO website, they also mention how adaptable starlings are. In the spring they eat mainly insects, especially leatherjackets, but as the year wears on they take to berries and fruit, and their digestive tract lengthens as a result. I’ve seen them hawking for flies, trying to catch tadpoles (though with less success than our local blackbird) and anything on the bird table is up for grabs. Maybe their adaptability will be what saves these spiky birds in the end, as they leave the open fields and the centre of cities to live mostly on the outskirts. I do hope so.

2 thoughts on “Red List 2022 – Number Eight – Starling

  1. Anne

    What are now called Common Starlings (as opposed to European Starlings) here are not the most popular of the birds originally imported by Cecil John Rhodes. Like them or loathe them, there is no denying their attractive plumage. A few of them regularly visit my garden and are quick to chase other birds away from the food. Fortunately, they tend to drop in, guts themselves, then leave.

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    That’s yet another bird that I have seen very recently. We had one on our bird feeders both yesterday and this morning. We also saw a murmeration while on holiday in North Yorkshire. It was certainly an amazing sight. I had no idea they were endangered.


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