Starlings giving me the eye…


Some of the most entertainig creatures of Borough Market are not the tourists, but the Starlings. They are those spotted little birds you see in the parks everywhere here in London. I like them, but the winemaker’s relationships to these birds is what one would call troubled…

When I heard the name of these birds as a child, I always associated them with destruction. Not mass destruction, but the ruining of the crop. We were taught in elementary school that the autumn brings flocks of starlings (sturnus vulgaris) that eat all the grapes.

As an ex-birdwatcher of sorts, I am always on the side of the feathered ones. I could never imagine the harm these smart looking little birds can do. It was only when I was in Florence, Italy that I finally understood. It was January at dusk. There was a grey sky and a big wind. Over the square there was a funny looking darker shape, that was moving in a odd way.

And then I understood it. There were tens of thousands of starlings there, all teamed up in a massive flock, and they were flying around like madmen (madbirds?) in all sorts of directions. According to the literature, that is what they do all winter long. Just the size of this cloud gave me the idea what sort of destruction these birds are capeable of – especially in a vineyard, during harvest.

In Plumpton college, in Sussex, I have seen the antidote. And surprisingly it is a rather tender solution. Set up in the vineyards, they situate massive megaphones and play sounds of birds of prey. This alarm sounds off all sort of birds that would normally be interested in eating the harvest. But in time, they get accustomed to the alarming noise. So the noises are played randomly, so the birds can never be sure if they are real.

On Borough Market they mean no danger to the wine, as they are yet to know how to use a corkscrew. They sit on top of the stalls, and look for anything to eat: crumbles and pieces of this and that from sandwiches..anything. They are swift and react a lot faster than their sky buddies, the pigeon. On the ground they walk like they were some really badly designed wind up toy, with a bunch of serious disabilities. Every now and then they work in teams. They make fun of people by imitating phone ringing or other noises of the market.

Once I was having one of the delicious sausage rolls that Mrs King sells. There were crumbs on the ground, and one starling was fixed at me from a distance. Obviously it was after the crumbs. And it was giving me the eye.

“Oi, mate!  I don’t have all the day for this and I NEED those crumbs. So would you mind moving the hell outta my comfort zone and let me at them?”

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