Starling numbers decline by almost 80%
by Rose Crompton
credit: RSPB/Ray Kennedy
Starlings are iconic city birds but their numbers have dropped by almost 80% in the past three decades, results from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch have shown.
Nearly 600,000 people took part in this year’s event and over nine million birds were counted, but when the results came in, they revealed that starling numbers have reached their lowest point in the survey’s history.
The average number of starlings seen per garden this year was three, compared to 15 per garden when the survey began in 1979. In the West Midlands and Edinburgh the count was as low as two birds on average per garden. There are also fewer starlings taking part in murmurations, the birds’ famous acrobatic displays, according to the RSPB.
Although starlings are still the second most common UK bird, their numbers are falling across northern Europe and the species is ‘red-listed’, meaning it’s of high conservation concern.
“We’ve been monitoring this decline and encouraging people to step up and help birds like starlings but we will also be conducting some scientific research into the exact reasons for these declines,” says RSPB scientist, Mark Eaton.
He added: “It would be a tragedy if the numbers continue to plummet and we will do all we can to help stop this happening.”
There were also fewer blackbirds in gardens compared to last year although this is thought to have been due to the mild weather which encouraged birds to stay in the countryside rather than visit gardens.
It was not all bad news in the cities though, as the survey revealed increases in goldfinches. In London, their numbers have increased by almost 53 percent over the past five years.
“Something is continuing to drive down the number of common garden birds in the capital. For some reason the tiny goldfinch is bucking the trend,” says Tim Webb, a spokesperson for RSPB London. “It could be that they are being driven into urban areas from their rural strongholds by a need to find seeds and bugs to eat.”
Urban gardeners can help to reverse the decline in numbers of some of our most familiar city birds, according to the RSPB.
“Far too much green space has been lost to hard standing which removes things like insects from the food chain and depletes wildlife generally,” explains Webb. To encourage starlings and other species back to urban gardens try to limit the use of decking and other types of hard landscaping and pack in the greenery. “We need more window ledges full of plants, more street trees and lush back gardens,” argues Webb.
For more advice on how to transform your garden into a wildlife haven, visit the RSPB Homes for Wildlife page http://www.rspb.org.uk/hfw/index.aspx