Did you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch? My Birdwatch was from the comfort of my kitchen where I while away many an hour watching the visitors to the feeding station in my tiny urban back yard.
I installed my feeders about a year ago – a pole with a small tray, and 3 hanging feeders, and a bowl of water. There are 3 more feeders hanging from the edge of my shed. I put out fatballs, suet blocks, sunflower hearts, mixed seed and peanuts. For a while I hoped to tempt the local goldfinches with nyger seeds but they seem to prefer my neighbour’s feeder on the other side of the street. I’ve had a couple pop down to have a look but they didn’t stay long enough to eat anything. Last spring I had a couple of blue tits visiting, and sometimes house sparrows drop by for sunflower hearts.
Pretty collared doves are occasional visitors.
And sometimes I see a robin.
But for the most part my feeders are starling magnets. They were the first to visit. Just one to begin with, whistling for its mate. Then a few friends arrived. Before long, there were gangs of half a dozen or more regularly crowding in, chirping and squeaking, squawking and chattering.
As the season progressed and the first brood of the year fledged, the youngsters started accompanying their parents. At first they would be begging to be fed, then as they learned the messy techniques of scattering suet and seeds, they began feeding themselves.
Feed me, mum!
I watched their colouring change from dull brown feathers, to paler heads, then developing speckles as their body colour began to darken.
By the end of the summer, the plumage is almost as dark and iridescent as the adults. A starling in the sunlight is certainly a beautiful creature to behold.
Throughout the year, the starling’s plumage changes. At breeding time the adults have bright yellow beaks, while in the autumn and winter it darkens to black. The base of the breeding male’s beak is pale blue, but you have to look carefully to notice. Their legs are much redder when they are breeding too.
I find their behaviour endlessly entertaining. Sometimes they will queue up for their turn on a feeder, a bird or two on the lookout for predators, while the others feed. But then a new bird will arrive, impatient and hungry, and will barge in, pushing an incumbent out of the way. They will rise up and squabble in mid-air, before one submits and allows the other in to feast.
Starling numbers have, sadly, been declining over recent decades. Research by the British Trust for Ornithology has shown starling numbers have fallen by 66 per cent in Britain since the mid-1970s. Read more about that at https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/starling/population-trends-conservation/#35q6z7007h5wZPdV.99 I remember watching, as a child, a small murmuration in Leeds city centre back in the late 60s/early 70s, as the birds gathered to roost on Merrion Street. The buildings there are all too well kept now to allow much space for birds – although there are usually a few starlings foraging for crumbs under shoppers’ feet along Briggate.
I was lucky enough to see the Fairburn starlings' murmuration in November. They are remarkable birds, and I for one would miss them if they weren't around.