Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Starlings: birds for all seasons

I was down at the coast last weekend and heard the clear mewing call of a Buzzard, or more likely, what sounded like a Buzzard..

A quick check of a nearby TV aerial, and there was the imposter: a juvenile Starling amongst a flock of youngsters, ever busy and giving off a mischevious air.  They remind me of a teeneagers out for an afternoon: only happy with their own kind, no adults in sight, lots of noise and chatter and always on the move.  I suppose if they were really like teenagers they would  sleep late and frequently require lifts.. but we wont go there!

Juvenile Starling: Plumage is subtle by adult standards (c.OOS)

The juvenile Starlings are quite subtle in plumage, compared to the showy, sparkling adults, who themselves sport two outfits a year.. Early season juveniles have a a plain sandy olive appearance , with pale creamy chin .

The juveniles in autumn begin to take on an adult appearance, their drab cloak reduced to a plain looking neck-warmer with the winter adults spotty body plumage beneath.  Flocks get bigger at this time too, particularly at evening roosts: look out for them in hedgerows: they are adept at stripping ripe black Elder berries or Blackberries from the trees; they're just a few weeks off ripening now.

Motley Crew: autumn juvs and winter adults (c. Shay Connolly)

Adults in winter are striking, particularly if seen in good light when the iridescent plumage is sprayed by pale chevrons sprinkled over dark base feathers.  These chevrons remain until the spring when they are gradually worn off but the bill then takes on a deep yellow colouration.

Sparkling winter adult (c. Shay Connolly)

There's also the winter murmurations to look forward to, the massive swirling waves of birds massing pre-roost.  Numbers are swollen at this time because we normally receive quite a large immigration of Starlings for the winter months with birds arriving from as far away as Russia.  These often arrive by day, the East Coast is the place to spot the Starlings, making steady progress, flying low and direct over the sea, to make landfall and immediately replenishing spent energy by feeding in coastal pastures.. 

Breeding plumage: less spots, pale bill (c. Shay Connolly)
Truly a remarkable species, I'm not surprised they mimic at all: they seem like the kind of bird that would have a good sense of humour!

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