Bird of the Day: Starling

Growing up in the 70’s, starlings were often regarded as a nuisance, and I remember crowds of them on the lawn bubbling and chirruping away as they called to each other in the flock. Nowadays, the bird is red-listed and the cause is unknown, although the usual culprits of changing land use and lack of food must be factors. Starlings love leatherjackets and other lawn grubs, but the fondness for decking, astroturf, and the intolerance of imperfections in our gardens must have had an effect, and widespread use of agrochemicals upset the soil balance and the little creatures that live there, reducing the availability of food even more. Loss of reedbed habitat, roosting sites and nesting cavities too. My garden is a jungle for wildlife but I’ve not seen any starlings on my lawn or feeders for years, which is a shame – although I do see them up in the copse behind my house occasionally.

Starlings are known for their spectacular coordinated aerial displays called murmurations, and I love seeing them massed on electricity wires; the combination of man-made and nature piques my visual interest.

Painting a starling was a bit of a challenge as I am always wary of trying to recreate spotty plumage. The winter coat of a starling is a glorious thing: iridescent purple-green-black and covered in creamy-white spots, but I like dividing the bird up like a puzzle and starlings do not lend themselves to that technique.

I ended up doing the spots in an even pattern, which is what I tend to do now as it seems to fit with the blocks of colour.

You can see the silver paint I’ve put in the green patch behind the eye, and the purple of the breast to give a bit of a shimmer. I love doing wings, as the sections are great to paint. The white lines are the paper, but the white dots are painted on afterwards.

I looked at Lars Jonsson’s page on starlings as his paintings are absolutely amazing:

I really love seeing his drawings too, and the little studies he does. I am absolutely rubbish in this regard: I don’t do any preliminary sketches whatsoever, although I do stick to birds I’ve either seen many times, or have some sort of connection. I use mainly photographic resources as I have to piece together various birds to get the final image I then paint from.

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