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Starling Control

Starling numbers are declining steeply and British Trust for Ornithology surveys show that numbers in Britain have fallen by about 66% since the 1970s. This is largely due to the changing agricultural landscape with less permanent pasture and mixed farming reducing the supply of earthworms and leatherjackets on which the starlings feed.
Their wonderful aerial acrobatics as they gather over towns, woods and reedbeds to roost at night are a joy to watch. However, their sheer numbers (when they are joined by winter flocks from the continent) can cause problems underneath their town roosts where their droppings cause slip hazards and corrosion.
Starlings are protected birds, so the only solution is to try to move them on to less sensitive roosts. This is generally done using tape recorded starling alarm calls.

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Starlings are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take a starling, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.

Preventing the birds from gaining access to their nests may also be viewed as illegal by the courts. It is therefore important to check for active nests before any repairs to roofs and soffits are carried out during the breeding season.

The provision to control starlings under a general licence was removed from the Act in England and Wales, making the species fully protected in England and Wales.

Long term monitoring by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) shows that starling numbers have fallen by 66% in Britain since the mid-1970s. Because of this decline in numbers, the starling is red listed as a bird of high conservation concern.

Starling population control is illegal and any effort to reduce inconvenience should be limited to dissuading the birds from using specific roosts that have a direct impact on human health and safety.

Starlings breed in holes in buildings and trees. They have been in continuous decline in Britain for many years and this may be attributable to a reduction in the number of available nest sites as our buildings have become better maintained. The use of insecticides in farming in order to produce unblemished food for our supermarket habit may have reduced food supply. Certainly the move in farming away from mixed livestock and arable enterprises to pure arable will have had an effect on insect life in the countryside.

Description:

  • Smaller than blackbirds, with a short tail, pointed head, triangular wings, starlings look black at a distance but when seen closer they are very glossy with a sheen of purples and greens.
  • Their flight is fast and direct and they walk and run confidently on the ground.
  • Noisy and gregarious, starlings spend a lot of the year in flocks.

Life cycle:

They nest in loose colonies and do not establish and defend a proper territory - only the immediate area around the nesting cavity is defended. The whole colony feeds communally in what is termed a home range.

To attract a mate, the male builds the base of the nest from dry grass and leaves in a hole and sings from perches close to the nest entrance. The female completes the nest by making a nest cup and lining it with fine grasses, moss and feathers.

  • Starlings lay 4-6 eggs in mid-April.
  • The chicks hatch in 12 days.
  • Both parents feed the chicks a diet of insects, larvae, spiders and earthworms.
  • Young fledge at 3 weeks old and are fed for a further week or two before they become independent.
  • Normally only one brood is raised a year, but chick success is very high due to the protected environment of the inaccessible nest holes.

Habitat:

  • Starlings nest in holes in buildings and trees.
  • They feed over farmland on a diet of insects, worms, fruit and some grains.

Habits:

  • Noisy and gregarious, they are enthusiastic competitors for food, especially in a garden bird feeder situation.
  • During the winter months the UK population is joined by starlings that have bred in Europe and they form flocks of many thousands of birds.
  • Those flocks feed on farmland through the day and roost in woods, reedbeds and city buildings over-night.
  • Some flocks are particularly attracted to cities because the average night-time temperature in cities tend to be a degree or so warmer than in the countryside.
  • In the spring, the flocks disperse back to their breeding grounds.

Starlings are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take a starling, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.

Starling control is limited to dissuading the birds from roosting in specific locations that may have a direct impact on human health and safety.

The best way of achieving this is to use a bird distress caller which imitates the sound of a bird (in this case a starling) in distress. The flock then think one of their number has been caught by a predator and they make a rapid exit before they befall the same fate.