Starling flock 'may have mistaken drive for reeds'

Emily Beament,Press Association
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:08

A flock of starlings which died after they crashed on to a driveway could have confused the drive's shingle with reeds they could land in or might have been trying to escape a predator, experts suggested today.

The flock of 76 birds crashed into the ground because of a "fatal error" in their flight, according to an inquiry led by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) wildlife group.

They could have crashed as they tried to escape a predator such as a sparrowhawk or become confused by traffic, light reflections or noise, experts at the VLA said.

The VLA also said the shingle on the drive was a similar colour to reed beds and the birds could have thought they were descending fast into tall reeds when they hit the ground.

The agency, along with Natural England and the RSPCA, carried out an investigation into the mass death of the starlings after dead and dying birds were found littered across a garden in Somerset earlier this month.

Onlookers heard a whooshing sound before the birds were spotted falling from the sky and on to the driveway of a house in Coxley in good weather conditions on Sunday March 7.

Investigation of 60 birds found they were in good condition with no broken wings, legs or skulls but a number had damaged beaks and blood in their mouths.

Alex Barlow, veterinary investigation officer at VLA, said: "The clinical history along with the post-mortem findings would indicate that this incident was due to a fatal error in flight by the flock. But we can only guess the cause of this error.

"It is possible the birds were trying to avoid a predator such as a sparrowhawk or they were distracted by traffic, light reflections or noise.

"It is also interesting to note that the shingle on the drive is a similar colour to that of reed beds so they may have been descending quickly into what they might have seen as tall reeds."

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