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Starling: from the ground up

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Starling: from the ground up

When the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch started back In 1979 there were an average of 15 starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in every garden. Thirty years on, in 2009, there were just 3.2 per garden! That is a very dramatic decline in numbers and it is one of the headlines put out by the media reflecting on the fall of bird populations.

I wonder if this really is down to dramatic falls in the population of starlings? I know, as a breeding bird in this country, like the house sparrow the starling has suffered but the garden birdwatch is in January so we are not talking breeding populations here. Every winter enormous numbers of starlings come here for the winter. Go to the Somerset Levels and you will see millions, yes millions, of them coming in to roost in the reed beds at dusk. Here, near Poole Harbour, we see a flock of over a hundred repeatedly flying around our neighbourhood in winter.

So, if there are still enormous numbers of starlings wintering in this country why are the numbers in gardens falling? Remember that the Big Garden Birdwatch is about counting the number of birds in your garden, it is not a scientific study of population levels. I think this decline is completely due to the way we feed birds now compared to the past. 

In 1979 my wife and I moved in to a bungalow just outside Southampton and we had our first garden. We put up a couple of nut bags and threw out some bread crumbs and scraps everyday. Within minutes we would have around two dozen starlings darting around, squabbling and demolishing the feast we had put before them. Not any more! Feeding birds is now much more sophisticated. Bread is no longer consider safe for birds and so we can buy peanuts (except the birds will not eat them any more!), several types of seed including sunflower kernels and nyger seed, fat balls, fruity nibbles and any other fancy that the garden centres or the RSPB will sell us.

Apart from the spillage from the seed containers there is no ground feeding any more as this attracts rats and spreads disease. With the bread gone, so to are the hoards of starlings, apart from the odd two or three prepared to fight each other for a place on the fat ball holder. It is the way bird feeding has changed rather than a decline in populations that is the reason for the falling numbers.


 

 

If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 2 years 11 months ago

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