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Starlings back from the brink to become most spotted bird in NI

By Allan Preston

Published 31/03/2016

A starling
A starling
A chaffinch
A goldcrest
A house sparrow

The humble starling is making a comeback in Northern Ireland. Thought in recent years to be in decline, the diminutive bird is now the most common species spotted here.

Bird watchers taking part in the world's largest wildlife survey have given a unique insight into the behaviour of our local feathered friends.

More than half a million people across the UK, including 35,510 in Northern Ireland, joined in the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch survey.

Taking the top spot in Northern Ireland this year was the starling, ahead of last year's winner the house sparrow and followed closely by the chaffinch in third place.

Spotted in 70% of gardens and green spaces, starlings are renowned for being able to mimic noises from other birds and even car alarms.

Smaller than blackbirds, they are distinguished by their short tail, pointed head and triangular wings. While they appear black from a distance, up close they are glossy with hues of purple and green.

The results of this year's survey will be welcome news for bird lovers as the number of starlings has fallen significantly during recent years.

The cause of the decline remains unclear, but it is suspected that a reduction in food sources - invertebrates such as earthworms - may have played a part.

As well as the noises they can make, starlings are known for their spectacular gatherings, known as murmurations.

In Northern Ireland, the best places to spot these huge, swirling flocks is around dusk at the Albert Bridge in Belfast and Slieve Croob in the Mournes.

Some of the more unusual species spotted here include the UK's smallest bird, the goldcrest, at number 37, and the treecreeper.

Running in tandem with the Big Garden Birdwatch is the Big Schools' Birdwatch, with 140 schools here taking part.

Blackbirds were the most spotted birds by pupils, with some even seeing birds of prey including the red kite and kestrel.

Amy Colvin, from RSPB Northern Ireland, said: "We're so delighted to see so many people, particularly children, take part in this year's Birdwatch. It's always really interesting to see which species are faring well and which species may need a bit more of a helping hand."

"It's clear that our gardens, local green spaces and playgrounds are vital places for birds to feed and breed.

"Taking small steps to give nature a home in your patch, like putting up a feeder or nest box, can make all the difference."

For information visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes

Northern Ireland’s 10 most common birds

1. Starling

2. House sparrow

3. Chaffinch

4. Blue tit

5. Blackbird

6. Great tit

7. Goldfinch

8. Robin

9. Magpie

10. Coal tit

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