The Starling – The Rusholme Ruffians*


A gang appears out of no where and takes over a food joint, with their greased black hair; loud chattering and mimicking the locals make themselves scarce. This may sound like the scene of some 1950s diner getting over taken by some greasers, or it could describe a flock of Starlings descending on a bird table.

Common Starling

Ah the Starling! One of our most maligned birds. Even from a being a small child I have memories of people defaming this wonderful bird. Mainly because it’s too greedy or noisy! Even now when the species is in decline and not as widely found as it once were people look down their noses at it “Oh it’s just a starling!” Shameful behaviour!

One thing that really annoys me is when people complain about the types of bird that come into their gardens and want to know if there is a way around stopping certain birds from getting the food the put out for other birds.

This annoys me on several levels, first that the birds that come to our gardens are not ours, we don’t own them we merely supply them with what they need and in return they will let us watch them. It is nature’s version of strippers, except these birds don’t mind getting paid peanuts. It’s like some people want to impose a guest list to their garden to stop certain birds from entering. Perhaps they could train a Goshawk to act as some sort of bouncer, ensuring that any wrong uns aren’t let in. “Sorry Starlin’ your names not down, you ain’t coming in!” Of course there are measures you can take to prevent certain birds from eating all the food by such as using a variety of feeders that isn’t suited for the bird you want to exclude. But why frankly would you want to? I’ve recently had a Wood-Pigeon frequent my garden; I bought a new tube feeder to make sure that seed was still available for other birds and kept on ground feeding for the pigeon. Maybe I’m just a champion of ‘rubbish’ birds.

I recently purchased a window feeder that would enable me to watch birds feeding up close. It’s been up for some weeks now and the only birds to use it have been starlings. I’m sure this would turn out to be a few garden birders worst nightmares. Ten pounds wasted on the petrol plumed, sweet and tender hooligan. However for me I take delight in being able to see this lovely bird close up, it also allows me to study their feeding habits.

As I mentioned Starlings have a bad name for themselves as been a somewhat gluttonous bird. When I got my window feeder I also purchased some food known as ‘Buggy Nibbles’ which is small pellets of suet with mealworms mixed in. Now the starlings loved the buggy nibbles and would soon clear the tray of them. However any seed mixture I placed in there they would leave and aren’t really bothered about – even though they’re happy to eat it from the ground. Not quite the gluttonous bird they’ve been painted as perhaps? Or maybe the nibbles are easier to quickly grab, the window feeder could be something to be wary of seeing that it’s so close to human dwelling. Earlier today I watched once single starling perch on the feeder and gobble down around five buggy nibbles in quick succession before flying off. Along with the buggy nibbles the starlings in my garden’s favourite food seems to be apples thrown sporadically across the lawn, a real treat for them! Normally the starling count is no higher than four or five. However one day when I threw a whole bag of apples out it attracted a gang of roughly twenty-five starlings. Magnificent!

Another annoyance of mine is when people (I think a more accurate word for them would probably be philistines) look down upon the wildlife in particular birdlife of the British Isles because it’s not as colourful or as ‘interesting’ as those in foreign, exotic countries. They would probably over look the poor starling and put it down as merely as a dullard. The swines! In my opinion the starling is both interesting and colourful. Firstly as for the colour; oh it has that wonderful glossy petrolesque sheen. The purple, blue and green tints that shine as light passes through its feathers. It always reminds me of those puddles of water mixed with petrol you find on the roadside. Whilst on the subject of feathers, best we talk about flight? The starling forms in flocks of thousands and with aerial manoeuvres to avoid predators they really do create a spectacular scene, that some have described as like watching smoke billow. Lastly is a focus on the voice of starlings. Along with its own song that’s made up of whistles and rattles the starling also incorporates the calls of other birds. It’s a great mimic! Not only the calls of other birds – which I can hazard at guessing has annoyed birders and twitchers a good few times when they’ve been fooled into thinking a rare bird is around only to discover a migratory starling! The starling mimics inanimate objects such as car alarms and telephones. I’m ever hopeful to find one that can mimic Brian Blessed’s booming “Gordon’s Alive!” but I don’t think it’ll ever happen, however sounds mimicked that people have noted follow; Common Buzzard, Blackbird, Collared Dove, Jackdaw, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Golden Oriole, Snow Bunting, Lapwing and even a whiny horse! Yes you get the point and the list goes on and on. The reason for is mimicry is most probably to attract a mate; the bird with the bigger range of sounds is of course the better and will have better genes to pass on. I imagine similar mating routines exist in top universities across the country, whereby the academic male tries to seduce the academic female with prose and pose he’s remembered.

There finishes my piece on the starling, a classic garden and town bird that is sadly on the decline. Hopefully after reading this you’ll be a bit more patient and loving towards the much overlooked starling.

* I don’t know anything about the starling population in Rusholme. It was just an excuse to shoe horn a Smiths reference in.

Buggy nibbles and window box feeder can both be bought from the RSPB website. There is also this window feeder here, which looks a bit posher and nicer than mine.

Starling image taken from www.copyright-free-photos.org.uk
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