Species of the day: Starling

27 March 2020 | Posted in James Duncan , Birds
Species of the day: Starling
© James Duncan

By James Duncan

Learning and Engagement Officer

The Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is undoubtedly one of the countries most familiar garden birds. So familiar in fact that they're almost certainly underrated in both their beauty and abilities in song. At a distance the adults appear entirely black, but it's only on closer inspection that the true nature of their plumage comes into light - their iridescence is almost magical, glossy green and purple shining magnificently in the sunlight. It could be ventured that they're one of our most beautiful birds. The vivid iridescence is actually produced not by pigments, but by refraction of light caused by the structure of the feathers themselves. Adults in breeding plumage have a bright yellow bill and it's actually possible to tell the difference between sexes. During the breeding season males have a blue blush at the base of the bill, whereas the females display a flash of pink. 

Starlings are of course highly gregarious and have an undeserved reputation for being somewhat greedy and aggressive. But over millions of years they've evolved to feed in flocks. Your garden feeder may quickly be emptied, but this strategy ultimately serves them well. Our population of Starlings also appears to swell during the winter. This is no coincidence and many of them are in fact continental visitors, looking for a break from the Siberian winter further east. This results in huge communal roosts and perhaps, in murmurations. Flocks of many thousand may congregate to perform aerobatic wonders in one of the single most spectacular sights in nature.

The Starling is also a marvellous songster. Their vocalisations are most certainly complex, but the sheer variety makes every bout a true performance. They're a wonderful mimic and don't necessarily stop at birds, imitating cats, frogs, goats and even human speech. Their ability to do this has long been recognised and has even made them the subject of a study into the evolution of the human language.

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Starling © James Duncan

Comments

  • Maggie:

    14 Nov 2020 08:12:00

    We enjoyed some spectacular moments watching the Murmuration in Brighton last Sunday 8th November. Surprised that it took place over the palace pier and not the West pier but guess that’s because it’s closed so there’s very little noise or disturbance to birds. The perfect finish to the day!

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