THE common starling isn’t used to our admiration.

They are noisy and messy and maybe not as pretty as some birds.

But not the birds in these two pictures. Never have birds been more welcome. Two pairs have nested on Dúlra’s roof this year, and already they are raising chicks.

They don’t seem jealous of each other, but they should be. Because while one has managed to get into a nestbox designed for swifts, the other has found the ultimate five-star accommodation – a box purposely designed for the starling that Dúlra put up on the chimney.

This one is deep, just how starlings like it, so they can toss all that straw bedding around. But it has something extra that turns it into the Rolls Royce of bird homes: a balcony. Birdbox designers watched starlings over many breeding seasons and realised that a balcony makes it much more secure for the chicks. Many starling nests are plundered by predators. And the number one enemy, at least in Belfast, is the magpie.
Last year Dúlra watched a magpie fly down the road being chased by two screaming, screeching starlings; the magpie had one of the bird’s youngsters in its beak. The victim was fully fledged, a big young bird that had just taken its first timorous step outside the nest only to be immediately grabbed and carried away to its death by a brute of a magpie. And that same magpie returned to the nest on a neighbour’s roof to snatch every single young starling as soon as it took its first – and last – step into the new world.

And that's why the balcony was built on to the starling nestbox. From around 10 days, young starlings like to flutter up and leave their droppings out of the entrance hole instead of fouling the main nest site. And the balcony gives them room to do it. Last year Dúlra emerged from the house to find a magpie clinging on to the balcony and trying to get its beak in far enough to snatch a chick. It surely terrified the young starlings as it’s like something from a horror story, having a deadly predator poke its giant head into your home. But the magpie left hungry. The balcony had served its purpose.

The other pair on Dúlra’s house are squatting in a box designed for swifts – newer swift boxes have smaller entrance holes to stop starlings, but this is an older one and so the starlings – druid in Irish – saw their chance.

It’s roomy inside, but the entrance is positioned awkwardly at the bottom and there’s no balcony. The magpies have been harassing the parents, but they can’t get in. When the chicks emerge, they will have to hope the magpies are otherwise distracted.

And that’s one of the reasons the starling is one of our most successful birds. There is barely a loose slate or a cracked wall that it won’t manage to squeeze into and build its nest. Also, they don’t hang about when it comes to breeding. It was still freezing a month ago when the males started singing outside both boxes and soon they had a mate. When she disappeared, it was clear she had laid her (usually five) blue eggs. And just as last week’s sun appeared and other garden birds began the job of nest-making, the starlings already had chicks.

They are amazing parents, leaving themselves worn and tattered caring for their offspring and they breed early so they can have a second or even a third brood before autumn. But it’s this first one that is always the most successful, because the parents have so much energy.

They need lots of chicks because their survival rate is so low. Only one in five starling chicks make it to breeding age. And an adult’s lifespan is just two/three years. If the magpies don’t snatch them, they will spend the rest of their lives trying to avoid a host of other avian predators, including sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons. But the starlings will ultimately come out on top; there are 310 million of them worldwide and there's barely any area on this globe that they don’t call home.

Dúlra can't help thinking that, every time he looks up at his new guests, they feel he's the one who is the guest and they now own the house. And maybe they are right? They sing every day from the aerial and roof, peering down dismissively at human intruders.

And the likelihood is that the brave starlings will be here long after he's gone!
• If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.