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Fall in starling numbers

PUBLISHED: 05:01 31 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:13 24 February 2010

OFTEN shunned by nature-lovers as noisy and greedy – one of the bird-table's most unpopular visitors is becoming increasingly rare.

National populations of the once-flourishing starling have plummeted by more than half in the past thirty years.

OFTEN shunned by nature-lovers as noisy and greedy – one of the bird-table's most unpopular visitors is becoming increasingly rare.

National populations of the once-flourishing starling have plummeted by more than half in the past thirty years.

And conservationists say they are most concerned by the drop of 25% over the past seven years – putting the starling among the fastest declining birds in Britain. They are so worried they have put the starling on a list of birds of "conservation concern".

However, experts at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust are working to reverse the trend and say flocks at its Lackford Lakes reserve near Bury St Edmunds this winter have reached unprecedented numbers.

In previous years roosting flocks have usually stood at around 6,000 birds, with that increasing occasionally to 10,000.

But Joe Davis, the wildlife trust's warden at Lackford, says thanks to habitat improvement work the evening roost figures this winter have regularly topped 20,000.

Mr Davis said: "We have had a winter roost of starlings for several years but only between 6,000 and 10,000. This is the best year yet – we've never had the amount we're getting now.

"They were roosting right in front of the centre in reed beds but now they're roosting in the scrub behind. But it's equally impressive wherever they go. This has been a great year."

The vast number of starlings closing in on Lackford Lakes at dusk each evening cause the sky to visibly darken, he said.

And Mr Davis believes the wildlife trust's work to create safe roosting habitats for birds including starling has played a part in the popularity of the site. Reed beds safe from foxes have been well used this winter and dense scrub which flourishes at Lackford has also been popular.

It is the sheer density of numbers which protects the starling from its main predator – the sparrow hawk, added the warden.

Mr Davis said starlings, like sparrows, were once familiar birds which have recently suffered a mysterious decline: "This may come about due to lack of food for nestlings as the survival of the full-grown birds is as good as it was before and breeding adults lay as many eggs as in the past."

He said the hostility shown towards starlings was misplaced: "Starlings are often perceived as noisy and greedy at the bird-table but they are gregarious birds and flocking is what they have evolved to do to survive.

"I think people are quite anti-starlings, especially in their gardens, because they're more greedy and turn up en masse, eat all the food at tables and then fly off. But I think they're a great bird in their own right.

"In urban areas the guano can be a problem thanks to the massive numbers in the skies but that's no problem for us here. It just goes into the site."

According to the British Trust for Ornithology's national bird surveys, starlings have declined by 61% between 1968 and 1999 and suffered a "worrying" decline of 25% over the past seven years. As a result the bird has been placed on the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Around half the UK's wintering population of Starling come from the Baltic States, West Russia and Finland – where the winters are too harsh.

They arrive in Britain from September to November and return home from the beginning of March – by which time the UK population are usually sitting on eggs.

Lackford Lakes, which has been created from former gravel pits, is open to the public all year round.

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