Contrasting Common Starling trends across Europe

A recent paper published in Ornis Fennica (Heldbjerg et al. 2019) showed that positive population trends of Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) in Central-East Europe contrast with negative trends in North and West Europe. The study, which included common bird monitoring data from 24 European countries and involved no less than 34 co-authors, provides an example of how useful the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS) and all the included national monitoring schemes within this collaboration are.

The Starling is one of the many numerous and widespread European farmland breeding bird species showing major population declines linked to agricultural intensification in Europe. We used monitoring data collected since 1975 in 24 countries to examine the influence of changing extent of grassland and cattle abundance, wintering provenance and temperature on national breeding population trends of Starlings across Europe.  Positive Starling population trends in Central-East Europe contrast with negative trends in North and West Europe. Based on this indicative approach, we found some support for the importance of cattle stock and no support for grassland, temperature or wintering provenance to explain Starling population trends in Europe.

Such a European-wide analysis may conceal regional differences in responses and suggests that currently accessible national land use data might be insufficient to describe the detailed current changes in animal husbandry and grassland management.  These changes may be responsible for changes in food availability and hence breeding Starling´s abundance and their differences across Europe. Reviewing results from local studies relating Starling population trends to local agricultural change offer contradictory results, suggesting complex interacting processes at work. We therefore recommend combining national datasets on demography, land-use/agricultural practices and from autecological research to better explain the reasons for contrasting Starling trends across Europe.

We hope that this paper will inspire other researchers to perform similar analyses on other species or species groups on European level. The PECBMS time series grows every year and the number of schemes involved is constantly increasing making the data suitable for comparative studies.

Heldbjerg H. et al. 2019: Contrasting population trends of Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) across Europe. Ornis Fennica 96


Henning Heldbjerg