Starlings have got to be one of our most beautiful native British birds, with stunning, iridescent greens and purples in their glossy black feathers and tiny ‘stars’ of glittering white…
They are also graceful birds, with stunning balletic displays in flights of ‘murmurations’ when thousands of birds take to the skies in swirling, mesmerising unison.
I’ve been so lucky, this winter, to see some close to home as the starlings group together for safety in huge roosts at dusk and trace their meandering route across the skies to these roosts, with their impressive murmurations.
Coleridge writes in 1799 of a starling murmuration seen:
“Starlings on a vast flight drove along like smoke, mist, or any thing misty without volition …. and still it expands and condenses, some moments glimmering and shivering, dim and shadowy, now thickening, deepening and blackening!”
An Ancient Bird
Starlings are an ancient bird, both here in Britain and in other parts of Europe…
In ancient Rome, vast flocks would dance murmurations across the skies and the Roman seers and oracles would watch the movements to gauge the moods of the gods and to divine the events of the future.
Starlings are often seen as the bird of the Druids. The word ‘druid’ itself in Irish and Scottish Gaelic may have come from the Old Irish word ‘truit’ meaning ‘starling’.
The Welsh word for starling is ‘drudwen’ or ‘drudwy’ (…although the Middle Welsh word for Druid was ‘dryw’ which actually means ‘wren’ – a story for another day!).
It is thought that the ancient Druids revered starlings and held them as sacred.
The 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey writes of the starlings nesting at Stonehenge:
“I thought of Aves Druidum when I saw the Stares breed in the holes of the Stones of Stoneheng. The Welsh doe call Stars Sturni Adar y Drudwy, ie Aves Druidum, ‘birds of the druids’ because they could talk.”
A Talkative Bird
Indeed, Pliny the Elder notes that starlings could be taught to speak in both Greek and Latin – and it is known that starlings are excellent mimics, mimicking the calls of other birds, telephones, car alarms, and even people’s voices and songs.
Chaucer, in his ‘Parliament of Fowls’ writes of, “the starling, that can betray secrets.”
And Shakespeare, in his play Henry VI, writes of Hotspur rebelling against the king and proposing to torment him by teaching a starling to speak his enemy’s name: Mortimer...
“Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion.”
An Unpopular Bird
In Germanic folklore, it was said that if a starling carries a hair from your head to its nest, you will go blind! (D.L. Ashlimann)
Perhaps this is why garden bird watchers are often not so keen to see starlings at their birdfeeders!
Or maybe, it’s because the starlings are very competitive and will easily oust the smaller birds and devour the food as well as take the best nesting sites for their own.
We sometimes have starlings visit our own birdfeeder, especially in spring. They descend in a chattering flock and gobble all they can at once – leaving none for the smaller birds – before they move on.
But starlings have their own young to care for, too, and are actually an RSPB red-listed species in the UK, in need of conservation efforts – so we must take care of them, too!
So I enjoy their beautiful colours while they visit – and put more out for my little birds in my garden a bit later, once the starlings have definitely gone to find more food elsewhere.
A Singing Bird
People actually used to keep starlings as pets – for their beautiful feathers and their speech.
Mozart himself had a pet starling for three years. The story goes that he heard the starling in a store, whistling the Allegretto from his G-major concerto… and bought him at once!
It’s likely that the starling had heard and been mimicking Mozart’s own humming or whistling.
Mozart grew very fond of his little starling and on its death, held a funeral for the poor bird and also composed a short poem for the occasion:
“A little fool lies here,
Whom I hold dear,
A starling in the prime,
Of his brief time.”
We do certainly seem to have a special relationship with the starling!
A Messenger Bird
My favourite Celtic starling tale is of Bran and Branwen from the Welsh Mabinogion.
Branwen was imprisoned by her husband, King Matholwch – she was forced to work in the kitchens from dawn to dusk and slept in the attic by night.
In her attic, one day, she found a young starling with a broken wing. She cared for the starling and mended its wing and taught it how to fly.
Then, she wrote a letter to her brother, Bran, king of the Isle of the Mighty, telling him how she was being treated. The little starling took the letter and flew straight to Branwen’s brother who brought his army to come and rescue his sister, which brought about a great war between the two sides.
Starlings are often seen as messengers, then, and can also be seen as messengers of the Otherworld. Their messages often herald times of great change.
Wisdom of the Celtic Starlings
My Celtic starlings signify the ability both to understand others and to speak your own truth.
They also represent the importance of looking to community for our own nourishment and safety – learning to live in beautiful harmony with our community – a single individual perfectly in tune with others as part of a collective whole.
Creating my Celtic Starlings Artwork - Behind the Scenes...
My art is created digitally from individual drawings (pen and marker) that I put together using Adobe Illustrator - here's a little look behind the scenes at the creation of my starling artwork...
It's not just the starlings that I need to draw but everything that goes into the composition - so for this, it's also some pretty branches of blossom and some Celtic knotwork elements.
Click on the images below for more details...
This stage of working digitally on my drawings, arranging the composition and tweaking colours can also take a couple of days, or more, depending on the complexity of each piece...
I hope you like my little Celtic Starlings artwork. I’ve drawn them in their dazzling winter plumage still in early spring, with those little stars of white, which are the tips of their feathers.
In late-spring and summer, the white tips are lost, and the starlings appear glossy black. The beak turns yellow in spring and summer for breeding season, and black in winter. The legs, too, are pink for the spring season but return to brown in autumn and winter.
The starling moults over the summer with fresh plumage seen each autumn. They can live up to 12-15 years old, and they often return to the same nesting site - so if that’s in your garden, they can get to know you very well and you might find them mimicking some of the sounds from the area.
It’s easy to overlook these common birds, but once you start to look more closely, you can really appreciate the beautiful, iridescent feather colours and the tiny ‘stars’ in their plumage that give them their name.
And if you are lucky enough to ever see the sky-borne spectacular of a starling murmuration, it will be a sight you will never forget.
Listen closely in the garden and see if you can hear the starling with its whistles and staccato clicks and whirrs – we have one who loves to call out on our chimney pot. I recognise his call now and love to see and hear him.
May you enjoy my Celtic Starlings are and may they bring you messages of love and good fortune.
Where to Buy
My Celtic Starlings are available as cushions, T-shirts, mugs, phonecases, shower curtains, journals, notebooks, bags, clocks and much more in my Redbubble store here...
Worldwide delivery is available from manufacture-and-print centres in UK, Europe, USA, Canada & Australia and customs charges will be refunded if you're unlucky enough to be charged...
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You can see more of my Celtic art and writings here... and more of my bird art and nature art here...
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