Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Spectacular starlings

If you've never seen murmuration of starlings then this is the time of year to go and do it. Right now, our Community Action Officers have taken their amazing volunteers for an unforgettable Christmas treat.
photo courtesy of http://www.visitsomerset.co.uk

Between Autumn and February each year starlings flock together to create beautiful, magnificent murmurations. Moving together, twisting and turning, like some kind of well rehearsed dance, the starlings fill the sky, looking for somewhere to roost for the night. You can see a film of how they do this on the BBC website here. You really can't beat seeing it for yourself though, hearing the swoosh of thousands of wings beating as they swoop in unison overheard  Luckily for us, the Somerset Levels and Moors are a fantastic place to watch this spectacle, with the nature reserves at Westhay Moor, Shapwick Heath and RSPB Ham Wall providing the most reliable views of one the UK's most memorable natural sites. Be warned though, there is very little parking at the reserves, so it's best to avoid busy times like the weekends. To find out exactly where the starlings are currently ring the Avalon Marshes Starling Hotline on 07866 554 142 and listen to the answer message, or email starlings@rspb.org.uk 
Starlings are great at mimicry and can make a diverse range of sounds, I've even heard starlings in the centre of Bristol mimicking the sound of a car alarm! But generally, to me, their general song of whistles, squeaks and cries sounds like a dalek or some other science fiction character. Male startlings sing throughout the year, with the exception of July and August when they are moulting.
photo:Alan Price
 Starlings have a wide diet, feeding on worms, insects, fruit, berries and scraps.They are often found commensal feeding, alongside lapwings in wetland areas, eating up food that the lapwings have disturbed.
Sadly, these handsome birds have declined in number recently, by over 70%, and are now on the Red List of birds of high conservation concern. There are suspected reasons for this decline; changes in farming practices, changes in grassland management, loss of invertebrate food through the use of pesticides, fewer nesting sites in urban areas owing to household improvements and poorer survival rates among young birds.

We can all help our bird populations during the winter by leaving out scraps of food and water for them. There is lots of advice online about what to feed the birds but peanuts, seed mixtures, fat balls, cooked rice and breakfast cereals are all good. Do not feed birds milk, cooked porridge oats or mouldy food. Why not use our recipe to make your own bird cake? Or get prepared for Spring and make a bird box - no good for starlings but very attractive to smaller birds like blue tits and great tits.

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