Probe into ‘mystifying’ decline as 150 starlings are lost every hour
THEY turn heads with their dramatic massed flying displays at dusk.
But starlings are now under strict observation by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds after new figures sparked fears that such sightings could become a thing of the past.
Latest statistics show that 40 million of the birds have disappeared across Europe since 1980 – the equivalent of more than 150 every hour.
Many migrate from the continent each winter to the UK, which has suffered a 42 per cent drop in its starling population.
Experts say the decline in starling numbers could be due to large swathes of grassland across northern Europe being turned over to forestry and cereal crops.
However, such changes have not taken place in the UK to the same extent, making the decline in residential populations here “mystifying”, the RSPB said.
The charity has launched an investigation into the “deeply troubling” decline, which has also seen numbers fall by more than a quarter (26.8 per cent) in Scotland.
Starlings have been on the UK “red list” of Birds of Conservation Concern since 2002, since populations halved during the previous three decades.
The latest report comes months after an RSPB Scotland survey discovered that sightings of starlings in Scottish gardens were down by almost a fifth in a decade. In some regions, numbers had fallen by 50 per cent.
Dr Richard Gregory, head of bird monitoring at the RSPB, said: “The starling is still a plentiful bird, but its numbers are falling alarmingly. Our records show we have lost more starlings across Europe than any other farmland bird.
“Forty million starlings lost represents over 150 for every hour since the 1980s.”
Martin Harper, RSPB’s conservation director, added: “We don’t know the reasons for the starling’s decline, but we hope that our research will yield the answers to ensure this bird has a secure future.”
While the Scottish situation is not as severe as that south of the Border, the RSPB said there was no room for complacency.
RSPB spokesman Grahame Madge said: “Compared to places like Oxfordshire, where the decline has been about 80 per cent, starling numbers in Scotland are holding up better, which is great news. But the decline in Scotland is still a troubling sign.”
Asked why Scotland was less badly hit, he said: “It could be that the birds coming to Scotland are travelling from areas of Europe which are less badly affected by changing land use.”
RSPB researchers will work with farmers to examine whether there is sufficient food and enough nesting sites for starlings in livestock areas.
The statistics were gathered through the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, where people across the UK record the number of birds visiting their gardens each January.
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