Observations on Some Birds in the Mainland of Orkney: Part 3

By John G. H. Marwick published in Orcadian Papers 1905


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A word about the common starling, which is very much in evidence in the North End of Stromness. Although a very abundant species, few cases of more brilliant plumage are met with in Britain. The metallic glow and play of colours on the feathers of the head, neck and back are very beautiful. It can also be taught to say a few words, and many stories are told of its oratorical abilities. I noticed, several years ago, many starlings congregating among the reeds at the Loch of Voy. They gathered by tens and twenties, till their numbers were enormous. I happened to mention this fact to a Stromness naturalist, who would scarcely believe it.

The starling destroys the larvae of many hurtful insects and although doing some damage to fruit, is really a useful bird. I have seen three cream coloured starlings one in Stromness one at Swanney in Birsay, and one in Rendall.

Many species in Orkney have decreased during recent years. Hawks, owls, ravens, lapwings, grouse and several other birds are not so numerous as formerly. What is the cause of this decrease?

I believe that hawks and owls are quite able to take care of themselves when perfectly fledged as the former are in no case very easy of approach and the latter in the daytime not often seen. We must then blame the egg collector for their scarcity and perhaps heather burning after the prescribed limit.

In 1887 a great part of the heath on Hundland Hill Birsay was burned and the charred remains of birds and eggs were much in evidence.Crows and gulls could be seen devouring what was left of the unfortunate birds. Another destructive fire took place in Harray some years ago; it extended I was told, for a distance of five miles with similar results destroying hundreds of eggs and many birds. Besides the destruction of eggs one would naturally conjecture that even small fires in hills would especially after nesting time frighten birds from the locality.


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