Every day there are plenty of reminders as to why we choose to live here. Three of my favourites right now are sunsets, seascapes, and starlings.
This almost hypnotic combination never fails to amaze and impress me, again and again, year after year. Whichever pier these highly agile ‘garden’ birds pick to perform their fine aerial dance around they are truly breathtaking.
Smaller than blackbirds, with a short tail, pointed head and triangular wings, starlings look black at a distance but close-up are actually very glossy with a beautiful sheen of purples and greens. Their flight is fast and direct, walking and running confidently on the ground too.
Living up to 22 years of age, these hardy birds will spend their winter in all habitats, including of course, our seashore. Starlings like to eat both insects and fruit, and if you’re able to get close enough to hear their complicated song, they resemble their Mynah bird cousins – with an exciting mixture of ‘chips’, warbles, trills, whistles and rattles.
Starlings are gregarious and often flock. Flock sizes vary, being smallest during the breeding season and largest in winter, as migrants from the north send numbers into the hundreds of thousands.
Flocks allow more efficient feeding, since each bird can afford to be less vigilant. This safety in numbers gives each member a greater protection from predators (for example the Sussex Heights peregrine falcons!)
During the winter starlings live in flocks throughout the day, travelling en masse between feeding sites. They use their spare time for preening and loafing, usually close to the feeding areas at noisy daytime roosts – exposed places such as tops of trees, with good all-round visibility.
Feeding upto 20 miles from their winter roost, they return every evening at dusk to star in their own daily episode of ‘Starling Come Dancing’ – jiving and twisting, gliding and turning, and of course shaking those tail-feathers! This cloud-like ‘murmuration’ of starlings unknowingly entertains residents and tourists alike as they once more prepare to bed down for the night.
Once inside, protected from weather and predators, starlings are slow to settle and are quite vocal. Noise levels increase again towards dawn, and the birds gradually leave again. Flocks can even be detected on radar, allowing detailed monitoring of their movements.
Sadly, although still one of the commonest of all our garden guests, its decline elsewhere makes it a ‘Red List’ species needing urgent consideration, and more importantly, action.
Our incredible sunset-shows are a sure sign that we should be actively considering the future of these rather special Brightonians. And if you are lucky enough to find yourself on the Pier surrounded by this living dark swirling cloud of chirps and swooshes – wear a hat!