Understanding demography is critical for understanding the causes underlying population declines, and for initiating and monitoring policies to reverse them. A method of fitting demographic models directly to avian count data recorded at a sample of census sites is described. The model is applied to national and regional counts of Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris in Britain for the period 1965–2000. Starlings have declined markedly during this time and are now on the list of birds of highest conservation concern. Although there have been small changes in various aspects of breeding success over this time, the analysis shows that these are unlikely to have made much impact on the long-term status of the species. By incorporating estimates of survival, based upon recoveries of ringed birds, the model suggests that the pronounced national decline in Starling numbers since a period of stability in the 1970s is most likely to be due to changes in the survival of first-year birds. This narrows the candidate range of environmental factors which might influence the decline and implicates changes in resource availability.