One of the greatest wildlife events of the winter is the Starling murmuration. Each year, huge flocks of these birds gather across the UK and perform an amazing spectacle as they swoop and whirl through the sky in mesmerising fashion.
We take a look at why Starlings engage in this behaviour and provide some other facts about the species, including how you can attract them to your garden, below.
There are a number of theories as to why Starlings take to the skies in such huge flocks each winter. For a start, flocking is a behaviour employed by many bird species in the winter months, as it helps them to keep warm and share knowledge of feeding sites. It is also thought that murmuration helps to protect against predators, as birds of prey, such as Peregrine Falcons, find it difficult to focus on one target with so many birds flying together.
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. 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.
Struggling for survival
While the vast flocks of Starlings that take to the skies in murmuration give an impression of abundance, and they are still one of the UK's most common birds, the species is actually in a worrying state of decline. The 2015 edition of The State of the UK’s Birds report shows that Starling numbers have fallen by 81 per cent since 1970, which means the species' conservation status is classed as red. Why the species is declining so rapidly is unknown, but it is thought a drop in their natural food supply - they mainly feed on insects, but also eat grain, seeds and fruit - may have played a part.
How can you help?
So, how can you help combat the Starling's decline and increase the chances of seeing these beautiful birds in your garden? As insectivores, Starlings will readily take any live food you put out in your feeders, while they will also feed on fat balls and suet. It is particularly important to provide live food during the nesting season, as Starlings will only feed invertebrate prey to their young. You can boost the chances of Starlings raising a family in your garden by installing a nest box.
Attracting these birds to your garden is certainly worthwhile. While they may look slightly dull from a far, see Starlings up close and you'll be enthralled by their beauty, with flashes of purple and green giving the species a truly unique appearance.
(Images from Thinkstock/iStock)