Alert Status: Red
Identifying Features: Smaller than blackbirds, with a short tail, pointed head, triangular wings, starlings look black at a distance but when seen closer they are very glossy with a sheen of purples and greens.
Average Length: 22 cm
Average Lifespan: 5 Years
Average Wingspan: 37 - 42 cm
Beak type: Generalist
Natural: Insects, spiders, worms and fruit
How to feed: Bird tables, feeders
What to feed: Starlings seem to feed on just about anything: berries, fruit, scraps, suet. However, they feed only invertebrates (no "junk" food) to their young
Nesting: The male builds the nest from grass in a hole in a wall, tree or building, but the female lines it with feathers, wool and moss. The male may decorate the nest with leaves and petals in order to deter parasites and improve his chances of attracting a mate.
Where to see: Starlings are conspicuous and widespread in the UK, occurring everywhere except for the highest parts of the Scottish Highlands. They are most abundant in southern England and are more thinly distributed in upland areas with moorland. Still one of the UK's commonest garden birds. In winter, huge roosts can be found in plantations, reedbeds and city centres.
Starlings are noisy birds and are not restricted to singing just their own songs. The species has a talent for mimicry and can easily copy the sounds made by other birds and can even imitate human voices. Starlings are outstanding mimics and incorporate accurate copies of sounds of other birds, frogs and mammals, and even mechanical sounds, into their song.
Exactly why Starlings do this is unknown, but the ability to mimic may play some part in attracting a mate. The bird's vocal range is so impressive that it has often been kept as a pet and taught to sing. Mozart even kept a Starling that was capable of singing part of his Piano Concerto in G Major.
Females will not uncommonly deposit one of their eggs in the nest of another female (a behaviour known as brood parasitism). The females that do this tend to be ‘floaters’, birds that have yet to secure a mate or nest site.
Many of these birds will go on to have a nest of their own later in the season so you may wonder why they dump an egg on another bird rather than wait. The answer may have something to do with the fact that early breeding is better, being more productive and giving the resulting fledglings more of the summer to gain independence; it also gives breeding pairs more opportunity for making a second breeding attempt.
As starlings gather in the evenings to roost, often they will participate in what is called a murmuration — a huge flock that shape-shifts in the sky as if it were one swirling liquid mass.
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.
Despite the population fall (89% since 1967 in the UK), there are still over 800,000 breeding pairs of starlings in the UK.
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.
Starlings are among the most social of birds, and this is particularly noticeable in winter when they feed in flocks and roost communally.
Winter roosts can hold anything from a few thousand to several million birds and can draw in birds from as 20km or more away. In the late afternoon, the flocks can be seen heading for their roost, invariably attracting more birds that join them along the route.