1. One of the most familiar of birds, the once abundant starling has suffered a significant population decline in recent years, and it is now red-listed as a bird of conservation concern.
2. Despite the population fall, there are still over 800,000 breeding pairs of starlings in the UK.
3. In winter our resident starling population is augmented by a major influx of birds from the continent: in the late 20th century as many as 37 million starlings were thought to winter in the UK, but the figure is considerably lower today.
4. Starlings are among the most social of birds, and this is particularly noticeable in winter, when they feed in flocks and roost communally.
5. Winter roosts can hold anything from a few thousand to several million birds.
6. Winter roosts will draw in birds from as 20km or more away, and in the late afternoon the flocks can be seen heading for their roost, invariably attracting more birds that join them along the route.
7. Before going to roost starling indulge in impressive coordinated manoeuvres – when many thousands of birds take part these aerial displays make terrific viewing.
8. The most spectacular roosts now attract crowds of human spectators: Britain’s most famous roosts include Brighton Pier, Sussex; Ham Wall in Somerset, Aberystwyth Pier; Leighton Moss, Lancashire; Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire. One of the biggest roosts in Europe is in the centre of Rome.
9. With so many birds assembling in one spot, roosts invariably become fouled with droppings, often leading to the birds abandoning the site and moving elsewhere.
10. Dawn departures from the roost are not spectacular, as the birds tend to have a staggered departure system, with flocks leaving at three-minute intervals, and soon dispersing into the surrounding countryside.
11. One of the reasons for the starling’s success is its adaptability, for it is a much at home foraging on a suburban lawn as it is in a free-range piggery.
12. Male starlings will sing for much of the year, only stopping for a few weeks during the post breeding-season moult. They have a curious habit of singing at winter roosts, both on arrival in the evening and before departure in the morning.
13. Not only are starlings great singers, they are also impressive mimics, able to imitate the calls or songs of other birds, and even mechanical sounds.
14. As soon as the days start lengthening our resident starlings will already be prospecting for their nest sites. They are hole nesters, and will readily adopt nest boxes.
15. Though there is little tradition of erecting nest boxes for starlings in the UK, it is common practice in Scandinavia, where the return of the migrant starlings is welcomed as a sign of spring.
16. Female starlings in the same colony or area lay their first clutch of eggs synchronously, usually in April, though sometimes in late March in the extreme south of the country.
17. The clutch consists of four or five pale blue eggs. They take 12.2 days to incubate, with the chicks fledging 21 days later.
18. Because of the synchronised laying, all the young starlings in an area will emerge within a day or two of each other, noisily following their parents out to feed.
19. Starlings eat both animal and plant food throughout the year, but animal food, such as insects and their larvae, are most important in the spring.
20. With their pale brown plumage the juvenile starlings are easy to recognise. In the autumn they moult into the typical white-spotted winter plumage. The spots are lost in the spring, while in the breeding season both sexes have bright yellow beaks.
21. Often scorned by garden-bird enthusiasts because of their greedy and spiv-like behaviour, starlings are among the most entertaining of birds, and well worth encouraging to the garden by providing food and nest boxes.
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