I’ve been invaded by Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) this week. I was woken on Tuesday by 20-30 descending on the garden, all trying to get on the same fat-cake cage at the same time. This caused an immense ruckus, and these gregarious little birds behaved the way they so often do: shouting, squabbling, and fighting.
I’ve often felt they are unfairly maligned though. I’ve heard it expressed that they are dull, brown birds that make an unpleasant squabbling and squawking. Now, there’s some merit in the latter point. They can make quite a racket. But they can also produce an astonishing song, full of clicks and whirls, whistles, scratchy electronic noises, and elements of mimicry (I had one living near me once that threw in a burglar alarm). They can be fascinating to listen to when singing at the beginning or end of a day.
As for the charge that they are dull and brown, I can only assume anyone saying this hasn’t really looked at them. There’s a huge variation in the patterns of speckles on their breast and wings. Their flight feathers have an almost golden fringe, and those dark feathers are actually an iridescent shimmer of purples and greens. In the sun, they are a beautiful, glossy treat.
They are rightly renowned for their massing flights, called murmurations. These pre-roost displays are astonishing to behold. There’s a great video here:
Sadly, it’s becoming a rarer sight. Starlings have declined by 80% over the past 30 years, a decline driven by loss of habitat as farming and gardening practices change. It’ll be a real loss if they go.
I personally enjoy the sight of a small flock descending on the garden, like a squadron of tiny fighter planes. Yes, they are noisy. Yes, they are gluttonous. But they are tremendously entertaining.