School Watch


Starling: Sturnus vulgaris (Latin name) - Druid (Irish name)
One of the commonest birds to visit the garden in winter and one of the loudest, starlings are capable of a variety of calls and are very talented mimics. Both male and female starlings can mimic human speech. They can also imitate the song of many other birds. Although common today their numbers have decreased somewhat due mainly to intensive farming methods that have reduced insect numbers on farms. They form large flocks in winter and feed in these flocks. This allows a greater protection. A thousand pairs of eyes see more than one pair! Also if a predator arrives the take off of such a large number of birds confuses the predator and may just help the starlings escape. Ploughed fields is a good place to see such a flock of starlings.

Starlings feed mainly on insects, but will willingly visit your bird table and bird feeders. They can be very aggressive towards the smaller birds, the sparrows and tits and the large numbers of starlings visiting your garden often frightens away some of the smaller visitors. They also take a lot of plant foods, including soft fruits and seeds.

In 1949, a large group of starlings landed on the minute hand of Big Ben in London and actually stopped the clock! In 1960 a plane taking off from Logan Airport in Boston, America, crashed just after take off after flying into a flock of up to 20,000 starlings.

In 1890, a wealthy drug manufacturer, Eugene Schieffelin, released 60 starlings into Central Park, New York and another 40 in 1891. It is thought that he wanted to establish all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare to America. Unfortunately, the number of starlings has grown to excess of 200 million and at the expense to the native American species. Starlings have done very well by taking advantage of human settlements.

In Ireland the starling is often referred to as the “stare”, especially for young starlings who do not yet have the glossy green and purple plumage. In fact, the adult’s striking beauty is often overlooked. Stare is in fact the diminutive form of starling. A group of starlings has many collective nouns, including “a constellation of starlings”, “a filth of starlings”, “a murmuration of starlings”, “a scourge of starlings”, and a “vulgarity of starlings”. In Ireland it was believed long ago that an ounce of starling dung, mixed with alum and white vitriol (Zinc sulphate) would cure afflictions ranging from ringworm to herpes!

Starlings build their nests in holes and under the eaves of buildings. The nest is made of straw and lined with moss and feathers. Four to seven eggs are laid and incubated for 13 days. The young fly after about 3 weeks. There are generally 2 broods from April to July.

1. What is the Irish name for starling?
2. What are a group of starlings known as?
3. Where do starlings commonly build their nests?
4. How many eggs are laid in the nest?
5. What colour are adult starlings?
6. How many starlings are there in America?
7. How did starlings reach America?
8. Name a good place to see a flock of starlings?
9. What do starlings normally feed on?
10. In what year did a group of starlings stop Big Ben and how did they do this?



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