Species of the month

Species of the Month: Starlings

Starling © Chris Lawrence

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Our Species of the Month species surveys are an important way you can help us.  Records are sent to DERC (Dorset Environmental Records Centre) who collate this information to build up a picture of the of the state of Dorset's wildlife. So please help us help wildlife by filling in the form below. Thank you!

January Species of the Month: Starlings

Scientific Name: Sturnis vulgaris

Identification

The gregarious and sociable starling is a medium sized, speckled, black bird. The plumage has a beautiful shimmering iridescence of purples & greens.   

Starling © Chris Lawrence

Starling © Chris Lawrence

Diet:

Starlings eat a range of food but mainly insects, fruit and seeds.  They are particularly fond of crane fly larvae. Starlings are very adaptable and have been known to catch small lizards and are partial to the odd chip!  

 

Behaviour

Starlings are gregarious, chatty birds and are great mimics.  Amongst the clicks & whistles you may hear impressions of curlew calls, mobile ringtones or even a car alarm. 

In the winter, colonies can reach over a hundred thousand at some roosting sites.  The swirling, pulsing shapes (murmurations) are formed at dusk and dawn as the birds return to and depart from their roosts. 

Did you know?

  • Murmurations are not fully understood; they are thought to help build body temperature prior to roosting and provide ‘safety in numbers’ with the complex shapes confusing potential predators.  The starlings may also be vying for the best position in the roost (warmest and safest).  The adult males get the prime location in the centre, followed by the females and then the youngest birds. 

    The numbers of breeding starlings have plummeted since the 1980s.  One reason may be reduced 1st winter survival rates of young birds.  Changes in farmland management are believed to be a cause of decline. 

Where can they be found?

All year round in towns, parks, gardens & farmland.  In winter their roosts are primarily in reedbeds

Wildlife gardening tips

Shrubs with autumn berries will be a good food source for starlings and other birds. 

Put out high energy food during the winter months when food may be scarce. 

Starlings nest in cavities often in old buildings, many modern roofs no longer have suitable gaps.  Providing appropriate nest boxes is a great way of helping. 

Do not use lawn treatments to kill crane-fly larvae as this will remove an important food source – the local starlings will help control the leather jackets and provide a free ‘lawn aeration service’ with their beaks! 

 

Species of the Month sightings form

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Blue tit © Stewart Canham