Starling – 2021 breeding – can you help?

Sturnus vulgaris – DRUDWEN – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant

If you look at the previous starling accounts you’ll see that the 1984-88 atlas showed them to be breeding in 40% of the tetrads (2x2km squares) across the county.  By the 2003-07 atlas, that had declined to just under 12%.  But what is the situation now?

This map shows where starlings have been recorded in April-June 2011-2020 according to records in BirdTrack.  The black squares indicate that the observer recorded definite evidence of breeding in 2021 – nests, birds carrying food, recently fledged youngsters (being fed), for example. This has doubled the number of tetrads with breeding evidence compared with the previous ten years.

Many thanks to those of you who have already added their sightings to BirdTrack this year, especially those who have been able to add evidence of breeding. If you have entered starling records to the WWBIC system, they are not shown here, but will be added in later in the year. If you have been recording starlings for Garden Birdwatch during April-May, these will also be added later in the year. This delay is simply because these recording schemes use different databases.

There is still time to update this map. The easiest way to do this, is for everyone to note where they see starlings in April, May and June, and add those records to BirdTrack.  In BirdTrack you can pinpoint a location on a map or aerial photo. Then when entering details, click on the ‘highest breeding evidence’ box and select the appropriate code.

Starlings may produce a second brood, so there is a chance of finding breeding birds in June. Flocks of starlings don’t count for this project (you should still record them, but don’t include a breeding code) – once independent, the fledged chicks quickly form flocks and move away from the nest sites, so could have come from anywhere.

If you really don’t want to use BirdTrack, then there is the WWBIC recording scheme either on-line or via their app (part of iRecord) where you’ll have to state in the comments field what you have seen. If all else fails, you can email me, but remember to include the site name, the site grid reference, and the breeding code.

The map will be updated in early July, though records not submitted through BirdTrack may take longer to incorporate so there will be another update later in the year.

More about the Starling in Pembrokeshire

Starling – 2003-07 breeding

Sturnus vulgaris – DRUDWEN – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant

Comparison with previous atlas:

1984-882003-07
Breeding confirmed15542
Breeding probable3216
Breeding possibleexcluded from totalexcluded from total
No of tetrads occupied187 (of 478)58 (of 490)
Percentage of tetrads39.1%11.8%

The Starling has been declining in Britain since the 1980’s, particularly in the south and west. The BBS notes a 53% decrease in Wales between 1994 and 2007. Comparing the results of the 1984-88 survey with that of 2003-07 shows a 69% contraction in range. There has also been a decrease within the surviving distribution. Just two pairs were breeding at Skokholm and none at Skomer, where there were 10 pairs and five pairs respectively in the 1980’s. This decrease was evident elsewhere in the county, for instance perhaps no more than five pairs survived in Haverfordwest and at Strumble Head a former thriving colony of 10 pairs was down to just one pair by 2004.

Combining the contracted distribution with such indications of decrease suggests that less than 200 pairs were breeding in Pembrokeshire at the end of 2007, whereas it was estimated there were 2,000 pairs in 1988.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

Records extracted from the Pembrokeshire Bird Reports, which may contain more detail than shown here.

More about the Starling in Pembrokeshire

Starling – 1994

Sturnus vulgaris – DRUDWEN – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant

1984-88
Breeding confirmed155
Breeding probable32
Breeding possibleexcluded from total
No of tetrads occupied187 (of 478)
Percentage of tetrads39.1%

Breeding

Very few Starlings bred in Pembrokeshire prior to 1880 but they have slowly increased since. Mathew (1894) noted that they were increasing and Lloyd’s diaries detail the patchy distribution they had achieved during 1925-1937. Lockley et al. (1949) agreed that they were rare nesters in some parts of the county while Davies (1948) gave details of some 50 pairs•in just eight localities.

The Breeding Birds Survey of 1984-1988 found Starlings to be well distributed in towns but sparse in many rural areas (see map). Very few bred in trees, but they bred freely in rock crevices in mainland cliffs and on the offshore islands. The majority used buildings, and their patchy distribution may be due to a lack of suitable structures in some areas. A population estimate has been made by taking fairly accurate figures from the islands and some mainland towns (where local observers live), and adding them to estimates for other urban areas and to an estimated average of ten pairs per tetrad for rural areas, giving a total of about 2,000 pairs overall.

They flock from June onwards, with juveniles predominating. Many of these are undoubtedly locally-bred birds, but as numbers grow during July and August it seems likely that others from outside the county make their way to the coastal strip.

Vast numbers pass through Pembrokeshire from October to early December, ringing recoveries showing that they include birds from the Continent as far east as Karelia, in Russia. The majority appear overnight and there are many records from the lanterns of the Smalls and South Bishop lighthouses. There is also considerable diurnal movement, principally towards Ireland, including 10,170 logged flying north-west out to sea at Strumble Head on 6 November 1983.

Roosts and murmurations

The coastal pastures of Pembrokeshire swarm with Starlings during the passage period and these are also the principal feeding . grounds for the large numbers that winter in the county.  Many small to medium sized roosts are formed but by late December the majority are concentrated into a few large roosts. Sites have varied but in recent times have included the reedbeds at Bosherston Pools and Canaston, and the conifer plantations on the flanks of the Preseli Mountains and at Dudwell. Birds spread out to feed during the day, some travelling considerable distances. The Preseli roost gathers birds from all over north Pembrokeshire as far as the Teifi, as well as from the south and east. The Dudwell birds fly in from St David’s to Fishguard in the north, from the western coastal plain and from the western Castle Martin peninsula. Starlings feeding on the Castle Martin ranges east of Flimston have been noted flying towards the Bosherston, roost but those on Range West depart northwards and the flightlines can be traced back to Dudwell. This sharp division has also been noted elsewhere, for example Starlings feeding at the village end of the Trecwn valley fly to Dudwell but those feeding at the Llanychaer end head for the Preseli roost. It is not known whether individuals remain faithful to a particular roost. The numbers using the roosts can be considerable, at least 200,000 having been estimated at the Preseli roost, and rough counts made at Dudwell suggest a total of two million Starlings assemble there.

Cold weather advancing from the east causes large numbers of Starlings to move through and to Pembrokeshire. Prolonged bad weather sometimes causes extensive mortality. Most movements are towards the west and are sometimes heavy; for example, birds passed at a rate of about 1,000 per 15 minutes at Marloes in January 1952 (Conder 1954) and over 52,000 passed over Milford Haven in 41/2 hours on 14 January 1987, an average of nearly 3,000 birds per 15 minutes.

Spring passage mainly takes the form of a fairly sudden departure, which is presumably nocturnal, during March. Starlings have been recorded at the lantern of the Smalls lighthouse throughout March and in early April. Night observation by radar, conducted near Tenby in March 1968 (Johnson 1969), recorded a strong passage of starling-sized birds overflying Pembrokeshire from north-west to south-east, consistent with through passage from Ireland.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

CONDER, P.J. 1954. Weather movements at Dale and Marloes, Pembrokeshire. British Birds 47: 349—350.

JOHNSON, A.L. 1969. Radar observations of bird migrants in south-west Wales. Nature in Wales 11: 121-125.

More about the Starling in Pembrokeshire

Starling – 1980s winter

Sturnus vulgaris – DRUDWEN – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant

The BTO winter atlas showed that Starlings were present in most 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84.

The darker the colour, the higher the relative total count for each 10km square.  The darkest blue represents over 2,061 birds seen in a day.

The largest numbers were recorded around damp pastures and at roosts.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

Data collected by volunteers for the BTO. Lack, P. 1986 Atlas of wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. T & A.D. Poyser.

More about the Starling in Pembrokeshire

Starling – 1949

Sturnus vulgaris vulgaris

In 1880 bred only in a few places, including St Davids, but by 1894 rapidly establishing itself.  Still rare in same parts as a breeder, and curiously local in distribution in the summer.  Absent from many villages, eg: Fishguard, in the west especially (only six pairs St Davids 1948), but has lately colonised Skokholm (two pairs 1944, about six pairs 1948), and Skomer (one pair 1946).  Abundant winter visitor, roosting in large numbers 1947-8 at Sealyham, Woodbine (nr Haverfordwest), Goodwick and Tenby marshes, and in smaller roosts elsewhere (eg Monk Haven).  These visitors possibly include immigrants from the Continent.

R.M.Lockley, G.C.S.Ingram, H.M.Salmon, 1949, The Birds of Pembrokeshire, The West Wales Field Society

More about the Starling in Pembrokeshire

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

More about the Starling in Pembrokeshire

Starling

Sturnus vulgaris – DRUDWEN – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant

Starling – 2003-07 breeding

Sturnus vulgaris – DRUDWEN – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant Comparison with previous atlas: 1984-88 2003-07 Breeding confirmed 155 42 Breeding probable 32 16 Breeding possible excluded from total excluded from total No of tetrads occupied 187 (of 478) 58 (of 490) Percentage of tetrads 39.1% 11.8% The Starling has been declining in […]

Starling – 1994

Sturnus vulgaris – DRUDWEN – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant 1984-88 Breeding confirmed 155 Breeding probable 32 Breeding possible excluded from total No of tetrads occupied 187 (of 478) Percentage of tetrads 39.1% Breeding Very few Starlings bred in Pembrokeshire prior to 1880 but they have slowly increased since. Mathew (1894) noted that […]

Starling – 1980s winter

Sturnus vulgaris – DRUDWEN – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant The BTO winter atlas showed that Starlings were present in most 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84. The darker the colour, the higher the relative total count for each 10km square.  The darkest blue represents over 2,061 birds seen in a […]

Starling – 1968-72 breeding

Red = breeding confirmed Orange = breeding probable Yellow = breeding possible More about the Starling in Pembrokeshire

Starling – 1949

Species account from the Birds of Pembrokeshire, 1949, by Lockley, Ingram and Salmon.

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 […]