A Starling in a hurry

Common Starling

Common Starling

Common Starlings are not my favourite birds.

In fact, here in Australia they are considered a pest, especially by fruit growers and people who have a few fruit trees in their back yard. A small flock can completely ruin a crop of apricots in a few hours, for example.

There is a wider environmental issue to also consider. Common Starlings are often found in flocks of hundreds and even number in the tens of thousands in fruit growing areas. Large flocks like this feed on the crops when they are ripe; for the rest of the year they are seriously depleting food sources of many of our native species. Even worse is the fact that they use tree hollows for their nests, thus denying native birds precious nesting sites. They are also very messy in their nesting habits, fouling the hollows to the point where only Starlings will reuse the hollow.

Last night I was at an outdoor function being conducted by our church. We hold this event on Sunday evenings every year in January  in the town sound shell. Despite the very loudly amplified music the birding was spectacular. Not many species flew over, mind you, but one incident involving a Common Starling really caught my attention.

Two Australian Hobbies (Little Falcons) live around the CBD and I’ve seen them soaring around the area on a number of occasions. One of them zoomed past the sound shell at great speed heading for some trees in the park opposite. It did a few loops around a tall pine tree disturbing a Common Starling in the process which sped of in the opposite direction, hotly pursued by the falcon. Both disappeared behind a building. I hope that the falcon caught his supper.

The problem with Common Blackbirds

One of my readers posed this perplexing problem with Common Blackbirds:

Helppppp!!We have a Huggggggge problem with Blackbirds in our garden, flicking our mulch all over the place, it’s driving us crazy, do you know where we could get one of those electronic things to scare them off, or anything else that would work in getting rid of them??

This is a common problem in many gardens.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, there is no simple, easy solution. Most gardeners tolerate this behaviour because they love to hear the beautiful song of the Blackbird during the breeding season.

Electronic device:

Mary asks about an electronic device to scare them away. I do not know of any but I suggest asking at the local hardware stores and garden centres. A long search of the internet turned up one very expensive (about $50US) device in a store in Kansas. The downside of this device is that it does not discriminate; it scares ALL birds, including the native birds that keep the natural balance of nature in the garden. Without the native birds eating the insects like mosquitoes, flies, beetles, centipedes, spiders and so on, our gardens would become an ecological disaster area. It would be a far greater problem than the nuisance caused by the Blackbirds.

Other alternatives:

Here we need to get a little creative. I’m not sure whether any of these ideas will work because I haven’t tried them. Some may even look a little ugly.

  1. Get rid of the mulch – with water restrictions this may not be desirable or possible.
  2. Replace the bark mulch with gravel or pebbles too heavy for the birds to move – an expensive solution.
  3. Build 20cm high walls along the edges of the garden so that the Blackbirds do not flick the mulch on to the path. These could be made of stone, brick, pavers, wooden sleepers, pine posts on their edges and so on. Be creative.
  4. Cover the mulch with chicken wire, shade-cloth or weed mat. Probably not a good look.
  5. Turn around your attitude and learn to love the birds; after all, they are just looking for lunch.

I guess these suggestions may not please Mary and may just add to her frustrations. Sorry, Mary.

Reader questions:

Over to my readers:

  • Do you have any suggestions for Mary? (Please be nice – offensive comments will not be published).
  • How have you solved this dilemma in your garden?
  • Reply in the comments section below. Update: comments are now closed for this post because, sadly,  some people cannot help being abusive.
Common Blackbird (male)

Common Blackbird (male)

UPDATE: I also posed this question to subscribers of the Birding-Aus forum. Many of their comments are recorded in the comments section below. I love the one about leaving plastic snakes lying around!