Starling, London

Where have all the starlings gone?

You might see big flocks of starlings in your garden at some times of year, but only a few at others. Ever wondered why?

About starlings

Starlings are sociable and gregarious birds. During autumn and winter, they gather in communal night-time roosts in places such as reedbeds and on buildings.

They spend the day feeding in smaller flocks but as dusk approaches, they fly to these communal roosts. Several thousand birds or even hundreds of thousands of starlings make spectacular scenes whirling around above the roost site.

New flocks arrive from all directions all the time, before all the birds finally fly down to roost still chattering away to each other.

The sudden disappearance of starlings from an area in winter could be caused by a major roost site becoming unavailable to the birds. This forces them to relocate, resulting in the abandonment of some feeding areas. This is often the case in cities, where they are actively discouraged from buildings. 

Visitors from afar

While UK starlings are resident, northern European birds migrate here for winter.

In addition to the UK breeding population being red-listed, starling numbers are declining across much of Europe, and we are getting fewer migrants than we did a few years ago. As a result, many winter roosts are now much smaller than in the past. 

Starling Sturnus vulgaris, adult male in hedge of Wild privet Ligustrum vulgare, Bedfordshire, England

Natural cycle

The disappearance of starling flocks in spring is a part of the species' natural cycle.

By February, our resident starlings start to move back to their breeding areas and form pairs, breaking away from the winter flocks. Soon after, those which have come to the UK for winter start their migration back north.

The same happens with finches, tits and other flocking species as their flocks break up at the start of the breeding season and they pair up.

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, gathering above reed bed at Ham Wall RSPB reserve

How you can help

Buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris, pollinating a Globe thistle Echinops

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