Many spring-heralding starlings remained in Estonia for the winter

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Starlings have decided to remain in Estonia during the warm winter of 2020-2021. Source: Dave/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Starlings are traditionally thought of as heralds of spring in Estonia, but the confusing winter up to February's frosty conditions led to thousands of birds deciding against migration to western Europe, leaving them to find scraps of food from trash heaps and cities.

While the winter cold finally reached Estonia in February, the warmer months leading up to it left a record number of starlings to remain in Estonia for the winter months. In years prior, the starling count in Estonia peaks at hundreds, perhaps a few thousand, but bird watchers have counted up a few thousand near Pärnu alone this year.

"In previous years, there have been a few dozen or a couple of hundred starlings here, but that number seems to be close to 4,000 birds this year. An earlier exact count was 2,000 starlings, but the colds have congregated the birds here," said Raivo Endrekson, a bird watcher.

The "Aktuaalne kaamera" report on Sunday showed birds pecking away at a trash heap near Pärnu. With the recent colds, birds from other locations in Estonia have also began to migrate to Pärnu instead of destinations in western Europe.

Starlings tend to remain in settlements, trash heaps or the coast during frosty conditions, where food is easier to find. But the spring heralds can also be noted dining in bird houses.

Ornitologist Margus Ots said: "The end of last year was very warm, fall lasted until the end of the year, December was very warm. There was no snow in western Estonia for the first half of January."

That is why birds gave up their yearly migration to the British Isles, North France, the Netherlands or Denmark, where they normally go.

There is not much reason to worry about the starlings, however. "Starlings can manage pretty well, they find enough food. But there is nothing to do, a part of the starlings who have stayed here for the winter, if this frost lasts much longer, will not survive the winter unfortunately," Ots noted.

As starlings have stayed in Estonia, the Estonian Ornithological Society is asking everyone to keep an eye out and notify the union of starlings. As starlings are called "gold beaks" in Estonian, it should be remembered that their name and appearence do not correspond during winter.

"We are used to starlings having golden beaks, but they only have golden beaks during nesting and that is a relatively short period. During winter, the starling is in their resting feather. It is still dotted, but they have black beaks instead. If someone sees a golden-beaked black bird eating in a birdhouse, it is instead a male blackbird," Ots noted.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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