Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Oh how the numbers of birds in our gardens goes up in the winter and the levels of food we put out goes down so quickly! One of the reasons, the Starling! Once the number 1 garden bird in winter it has fallen now to number 4.

Actually, feeding birds has changed considerably over the last thirty years. In 1979 my wife and I moved in to a bungalow just outside Southampton and we had our first garden. The first thing we did was to put up a couple of nut bags and then throw 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 droppings from the seed containers there is no ground feeding 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.

In 1979 there were an average of15 Starlings per garden in the RSPB Garden Bird Watch; thirty years on, in 2009, there were just 3.2! We still have enormous numbers of Starlings wintering in this country but they just do not seem to like gardens any more.

Despite being brash, aggressive, noisy, quarrelsome and much beside they are real characters. Their scientific name is Srurnus valgaris; vulgar certainly but great fun to watch.

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