David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
FARMING FOR BIRDS IN WALES
Starlings need suitable nest sites and a good supply of insects and seed food to breed successfully.
The number of starlings breeding in Wales
is falling at an alarming rate, with a 62%*
decline since 1994. Welsh starlings are
joined in the winter months by large
numbers of continental immigrants, which
form the large flocks that can be seen
roaming the countryside. In Wales, the
starling is a bird of pastoral and suburban
habitats. Its decline is thought to be
associated with changes in pastoral
management, including loss of permanent
pasture and loss of mixed farming. The
availability of nest sites may also be a
*Data source: British Trust for Ornithology
WHAT DO STARLINGS NEED?
Areas of mixed farming with insect-rich permanent pasture, old trees and buildings,
Starlings nest in holes and
cavities in trees and
occupied houses). They will
also use nestboxes.
In the breeding season,
adults and young feed on
insects and their larvae,
invertebrates such as tipulid
larvae (leatherjackets) and
earthworms. These are taken
from areas of permanent
pasture. They also take
spiders and caterpillars from
grassland, trees and
Fruit and seed food
Hedgerow fruit and seed
taken from stubble fields are
important foods throughout
the year but particularly in
the autumn and winter when
insect food is scarce.
Juveniles rely heavily on
fruit and caterpillars, gleaned
HOW CAN I ENCOURAGE STARLINGS?
MANAGE PERMANENT PASTURE
Permanent pasture is a very important feeding
habitat for starlings throughout the year.
The following management should be
undertaken, particularly in pasture fields that
are large and open.
Manage areas of permanent pasture by:
● grazing livestock. Starlings favour short
grazed areas, which allow easy access to
● avoiding use of pesticides to control
tipulid larvae (leatherjackets).
Avoid frequent cultivation and re-seeding,
which reduces the populations of soil
Create or maintain damp areas in fields.
The increased moisture content makes soil
invertebrates more accessible.
Unimproved and semi-improved
pasture can be important. There are
options to maintain these habitats within
Apply farmyard manure to improved
permanent pasture to make invertebrates
Avoid rolling pastures in spring unless
INTRODUCE ARABLE TO
This will also benefit other declining farmland
birds, such as yellowhammers and tree
sparrows, but should not be done at the expense
of insect-rich permanent pasture.
Introduce a spring-sown cereal crop, and
leave as over-wintered stubble – an
unsprayed crop will be most beneficial.
The crop could be harvested as whole-crop
Introduce arable fodder crops such as
swedes. This will be most beneficial if
established by cultivation and unsprayed.
Unsprayed cereal and root crops and
over-wintered stubble can be funded by
INTRODUCE PERMANENT PASTURE
TO ARABLE AREAS
● Introduce and manage areas of permanent
pasture (see above).
NEST SITES AND NESTBOXES
● Maintain mature trees both in hedgerows
and around the farm to provide nest holes.
● Try to maintain holes and crevices in brick
and stonework. If it is necessary to block
holes then ensure an alternative nest site is
available by providing a starling nestbox.
● Nestboxes need to be made to specific
dimensions (50 cm x 15 cm x 17 cm with a
45 mm hole), and should be located in loose
groups or near other natural nest sites, as
starlings are loose colonial nesters.
HEDGEROWS, SCATTERED TREES
Good hedgerow management will also benefit
declining farmland species such as grey
partridges, yellowhammers and bullfinches.
Cut or trim on a two or three-year rotation,
preferably cutting alternate sides each year.
Ideally, cut or trim in January or February.
Fence out from the hedge base to encourage
a well-vegetated base and margin.
Maintain hedgerow trees.
Maintain scattered trees and copses around
STARLINGS AND THE LAW
● Starlings eat large numbers of invertebrates,
many of which are crop pests. Consequently,
in many countries they are encouraged by
the provision of nestboxes.
● Starlings are protected under the Wildlife &
Countryside Act 1981. They can, however, be
controlled by authorised persons under the
terms of a general licence for the prevention
of serious damage to agriculture and for the
preservation of public health and safety.
● As starlings are now of the highest
conservation concern, the RSPB believes that
it is no longer appropriate to control
starlings under general licence. A study by
Defra has found that shooting is apparently
one of the least effective methods of control
and exclusion nets the most effective,
so wherever possible, preventative
management and non-lethal scaring
measures should be used rather then lethal
Manage permanent pasture
to encourage soil-dwelling
insects. Grazing livestock will
allow starlings access to the
Use nestboxes to provide
additional nest sites,
particularly where building
work or the loss of mature
trees means there is a lack
of natural sites.
Introduce arable habitats
to pastoral farming areas
and permanent pasture to
Many of these guidelines may
be funded by agri-environment
schemes. For further
Farming Connect, Y Lanfa,
Ceredigion SY23 1AS.
Tel: 08456 000 813
Advisory Officer, The RSPB, North Wales
Office, Maes y Ffynnon, Penrhosgarnedd,
Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DW.
Tel: 01248 363800
Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group
Cymru, Ffordd Arran, Dolgellau,
Gwynedd LL40 1LW.
Tel: 01341 421456
The Game Conservancy
Hampshire SP6 1EF.
Tel: 01425 652381
Countryside Council for Wales,
Maes y Ffynnon, Penrhosgarnedd,
Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DW.
Tel: 01248 385500
RSPB regd charity no 207076 Line drawing by J Busby