The starling is one of the best-known birds in Europe and is a common wintering bird in Malta.
In most of Europe, starlings are tame and confiding. In Malta they are not protected and are shot in large numbers. The ones that survive are thus often very wary and keep away from humans.The first birds start to arrive in September but the majority visit us from October to early spring.
A couple of decades ago, a pair of starlings bred for the first time in the Maltese islands.
The bird continued to breed here irregularly but it is still a rare breeder, with only one or two pairs managing to breed every year.
The starling, sturnell in Maltese, is difficult to confuse with other birds. It is the size of a thrush – about half the size of a pigeon – with dark, glossy feathers. After moulting, in late summer, it gets a spotted appearance.
The spots appear because the new feathers have white tips. But with time, the tips wear off and by summer, or earlier, most of the white spots would have disappeared.
Starlings are mainly insectivorous and can play an important role in pest control. They also eat seeds and fruit.
These birds are also found in North Africa, the Middle East and all the way to India, Nepal and China.
They have also been introduced in many other parts of the world, including North America, Australia and New Zealand from where it migrated to surrounding regions.
Although the starling is still common, in some areas it has decreased by up to 80 per cent.
Tens of thousands are shot in Malta every year and if it were not for this ‘sport’, starlings would be much tamer and approachable and they would probably breed in larger numbers.
This article was published in The Times on 12.12.12