If you’re a fan of feeding the birds in your garden I imagine you’ll know a starling when you see one, but there’s more to these beautiful birds than meets the eye! Starlings are noisy, gregarious and can be found in pretty much every part of Scotland, expect for some of the most northerly areas of the Highlands. They’re one of our most common garden birds – they came in at number two in our Big Garden Birdwatch this year, pipped to the post only by the house sparrow. But how much do you know about them? Here are five starling facts we thought you’d enjoy.
Starlings are excellent mimics
Birds learn to build up the vital repertoire of songs they need to attract a mate or defend their territory by copying sounds that they hear. Starlings are particularly good ‘mimics’ and have been known to pick up and incorporate the songs of other bird species. However, it doesn’t stop there. Birds can also mimic other sounds such as whistling or the screech of a car alarm. There’s an evolutionary advantage to all this too, as female birds will choose males with the most complex songs.
They like to get lost in the crowd
In winter, starlings will gather in huge flocks which are amazing to watch as they whirl, swoop and dive in unison across the sky. This is known as a murmuration. It’s believed starlings do this for a number of reasons: grouping together offers safety in numbers, helps them to keep warm and provides an opportunity to exchange information such as good feeding areas. Whatever the reason, it’s breathtaking to witness.
At mealtimes, starlings cover all bases
Starlings have a nifty little adaptation to keep themselves safe when feeding. When probing for food, they will swivel their eyes forwards to see what they are eating, but they can also swivel their eyes backwards which allows them to watch out for any possible danger that may be approaching without having to lift their head.
Juveniles wear many coats
The coat of a juvenile starling goes through quite a few changes. Young birds that are just out of the nest are mouse brown in colour with a dark ‘mask’ and black bill. By late summer, they begin to grow new glossy wing feathers and spotty body feathers. By winter they are spotted all over, but still look dark. Look out for juveniles during different parts of the year and see if you can identify these changes!
They don’t mind hand-me-downs
Starlings nest in holes in buildings or trees and old woodpecker holes actually make the perfect home for them. To attract a mate, the male will start to build a nest, using dry grass and leaves, before singing from a nearby perch to advertise his wares. An interested female will then complete the nest ‘cup’, usually by adding fine grass, moss and feathers.
If you enjoyed this 'five facts' blog check out some of our other ones:
Five facts you should know about puffins
Five facts you need to know about gannets
Five facts you need to know about red squirrels
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654