Birdwatch News Archive
Though still a common species, Starling is fast being reduced in numbers adn the causes must be adderessed if this is to be halted. Photo: Vytauto (commons.wikimedia.org).
Starling population crashes across Europe
Posted on: 21 Jul 2012
New figures show that 40 million Starlings have disappeared from the European Union, including Britain, since 1980.
The news comes on top of the figures suggesting that 300 million famland birds have been lost from Europe over the same period. http://www.birdwatch.co.uk/channel/newsitem.asp?c=11&cate=__12380 The crash is triggering concern about the bird’s future status as a widespread and familiar species, and in Britain, the RSPB has launched a research project to see why this bird’s population is in freefall here, too. In 2002 Starling was added to Britain's ‘red list’ of Birds of Conservation Concern, because its population had halved during the previous three decades.
Each winter, Britain's Starling numbers are boosted by birds arriving from continental Europe, but there is evidence of a decline in the numbers visiting Britain and this could be linked to the decline elsewhere in Europe.
The RSPB’s Dr Richard Gregory, who heads up the Society’s bird monitoring section, said: “The starling is still a plentiful bird, but its numbers are falling alarmingly.” For example, the numbers recorded in winter by the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch have fallen by 80 per cent since 1979, and by nearly a third in just 10 years. Dr Gregory added: “Our records show that we have lost more Starlings across Europe than any other farmland bird. Forty million starlings lost represent over 150 for every hour since the 1980s. This loss should be a wake-up call, because we ignore the decline of nature at our own peril.”
There have been several theories put forward to explain Starling’s decline. In parts of Europe, suggestions include the loss of grassland through conversion to forestry and intensive crop farming. But these changes haven’t affected Britain in the same way, so the reasons for the rapid decline are not understood.
Working in Somerset and Gloucestershire, RSPB researchers will be working with farmers to examine whether there is sufficient food and nesting sites for Starlings in livestock areas. The species feeds by probing lawns and pastures with their longish bills, looking for soil invertebrates, including leatherjackets. These cranefly larvae are widely regarded as pests, so Starlings provide a good natural method of control for farmers and gardeners. Part of the study will examine the state of food supply for Starlings in these pastures.
Martin Harper, the 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. Understanding exactly what is causing these declines will allow us to develop practical and cost-effective solutions for land managers and farmers. These could then be delivered through wildlife-friendly farming schemes and other policy interventions. But only if Europe and our Government grow this vital source of funding as they reform the CAP and agree the European budget over the next few months.”
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