Amateur ornithologists help track starling decline

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FROM their distinctive swagger and noisy chatter to the dramatic massed flying displays, they are a familiar sight across the country.

But anyone paying closer attention may have noticed that over recent years, flocks of starlings have been becoming a rarer sight.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds remains mystified by the decline which has seen numbers plummet by more than a quarter in Scotland.

The latest report last year (2012) came just months after another RSPB 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.

Last year, the society launched an investigation to determine the cause.

Experts are now working with farmers to examine whether there are enough nesting sites and food for starlings in livestock areas. The species were added to the UK “red list” of Birds of Conservation Concern in 2002.

The survey results which RSPB researchers are using, include key data gathered from the charity’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, which returns today.

Last year, more than 53,000 Scots took part in the annual weekend snapshot survey, each spending an hour recording the birds that visited their gardens or local parks.

Keith Morton, of the RSPB Scotland, said: “Over a single year the information tells us very 

“It’s only when we compare data over the long term that we can see trends developing, particularly significant changes in population which can set alarm bells ringing.

“Probably the most famous example of population change which the Big Garden Birdwatch has helped to reveal has been the dramatic decline in starling numbers.”

With snow and ice covering much of Scotland this week in the latest cold snap, more and more birds are being forced to forage in gardens around the country to survive.