Starling – 1894

Sturnus vulgaris – Common resident; vast arrivals in the autumn.

When we took up our residence in the county in 1880, the Starling was only then a nesting species in a few localities. We heard of one or two instances of its breeding at St. David’s, but there were no nests in our immediate neighbourhood. Before we left Stone Hall we had numerous nests in hollow trees in our grounds, and the bird appeared to be rapidly establishing itself throughout the county. Its numbers in the autumn and throughout the winter are almost beyond belief. A large plantation of laurels at Stone Hall close to the house was occupied as a roosting place, and had to be destroyed on account of the offensive smell caused by the birds.

Another great roosting-place in our neighbourhood was in a small fir plantation at the back of the singular Treffgarne Rocks. Here, as the trees failed to supply sufficient perches to the birds, the heather on the mountain adjoining was occupied by them for several acres, and the ground was whitened over by their mutings. The flocks of an afternoon, as the birds collected to fly to their roosting places, were a sight to behold. The air was almost darkened as the immense concourse passed, and the sound of the wings could be heard at a considerable distance. On its way through the sky the vast assemblage indulged in wonderful evolutions, at one time suddenly contracting into the form of an enormous balloon; at another time, as suddenly expanding, it shot out into a gigantic black ribband drawn across the heavens.

Numbers roosted in the rhododendrons in our grounds, and as flock after flock arrived, we beheld them darting suddenly vertically downwards on to their perches, where there would be some confusion and chattering before peace and quiet prevailed. The flocks feeding on our lawn were never without some few cripples, either one-legged birds, or birds deficient in a toe or two ; and we used to wonder whether they were liable to foot disease, or whether the lame birds had been injured by some cruel shot fired (perhaps hundreds of miles away) “into the brown” of the flocks.

Writing as long ago as 1866, Mr. Dix says of the Starling: ” It arrives about the middle of October in large flocks, leaving again in February. One pair stayed and bred about a mile from here last season; it was the only instance I heard of. It seems strange that they should leave during the breeding season ; it cannot be from the want of food, as in a damp climate like this worms are plentiful, and stone walls, thatched cottages, and ruinous buildings are common enough to accommodate them.”

Mr. Tracy, giving his experience of the Starling in the south of the county about 1850, speaks of it as a winter visitor, arriving in October in immense flocks, and adds: “A few pairs remain and breed here, and during the last four or five years [the nesting birds] have increased very considerably.” Mr. Jefferys, however, informs us that the Starling is decidedly rare during the breeding season in the neighbourhood of Tenby.

We are very fond of the Starling. He is not only a cheerful and lively bird, with a most amusing song that imitates very many other birds, and very domestic in his habits, loving to approach and haunt our dwellings, but he is at all times harmless, and useful in devouring countless injurious grubs, and his occasional thefts of fruit we are most willing to condone; and then we have, from long observation, formed a very high opinion of his peaceable disposition.

Watching the large flocks feeding on the pastures, how rarely any of the birds appear to quarrel. As they search for food those in the rear fly over to the front, and are then superseded by those behind flying over them in turn, and so the flock advances, eagerly examining and probing the grass with their beaks on the hunt for beetles and worms, and when one bird makes a capture those nearest immediately run up to search more diligently the lucky spot, while all the time their operations are conducted with perfect friendliness and amiability.

One hard winter, when day after day we fed numerous starving birds at our dining-room window, we had among them a little flock of about a dozen Starlings, and we never observed any pushing or crowding or contention among them. However hungry they might be, each bird seemed to give way to the other, and we thought their conduct was a perfect pattern of gentlemanly behaviour, and the good opinion we had always held of the Starlings was greatly confirmed.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

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