Common Starlings

Common Starling

The introduced bird species, Common Starling, is very common in our district, including our garden. They are also very common throughout south-eastern Australia, sometimes forming flocks numbering in the thousands.

They are a much maligned bird – and with good reason. We certainly don’t like the way they feast on the fruit in our orchard and they certainly foul up tree hollows when nesting, making the hollows most unattractive to native species.

They also have an uncanny knack of being able to imitate other birds. More than once I have been over excited about hearing an unusual call in the garden, only to realise that a starling is responsible. One of our resident starlings is able to very cleverly imitate a chook (chicken) cackling. Years ago we even had one around that was able to imitate the outside bell of a telephone, something it had learned from a nearby factory.

There is one redeeming feature of this species. At certain times of the year they do take on a very colourful, shimmering, iridescent  array of colours, as shown in the birds featured in the photos today. (Hint: click on the photos to enlarge the image.)

Common Starling

Bizarre bird behaviour

From time to time we all observe some form of bizarre behaviour exhibited by animals. Birds are no exception.

A few minutes ago I was enjoying an afternoon cuppa on the back veranda. I was in the lovely winter sun and out of the biting cold wind. Very relaxing.

As I sat there a small flock of about a dozen Common Starlings flew rapidly over head and then circled the garden several times before suddenly diving into a tree near the road which passes our little block of land. One of the flock was giving a strange call-hard to describe and one I’d not heard before from a Starling’s considerable repertoire.   Very strange.

I couldn’t determine why they had behaved in this way. I saw and heard no raptors sneaking around. This is the usual disquieting event for starlings and honeyeaters and other garden birds. I still have no idea why they were flying like that.

Common Starling

Common Starling

Birding around Gisborne, Victoria

Crimson Rosella, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Crimson Rosella, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

On our holiday earlier this year we stayed for several days with friends in Gisborne, north of Melbourne. I didn’t deliberately go our birding while there but we did go for several drives in the district and I’ll write about those in coming days.

Instead, I took note of those species I saw or heard around the garden and on a walk we did one evening. I was quite surprised by the numbers of Common Mynas now present in Gisborne. I can’t recall ever seeing so many on previous visits. On one occasion there must have been at least 30 sitting on a neighbour’s roof and fence. That is too many!

The town still has large numbers of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Long Billed Corellas. Several times I heard a small flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos flying over. Crimson Rosellas (photo) are also quite common in the area, but I can’t recall seeing or hearing any lorikeets or Galahs on this visit. They must have been around, but I didn’t record any this time.

The common garden birds, apart from the mynas, included House Sparrows, Common Blackbirds, Australian Magpies, Red Wattlebirds and New Holland Honeyeaters. Interestingly, the Mynas seem to have replaced the Common Starling.

I also saw a small flock of thornbills moving through the garden. None would give me a good enough look to positively ID them. They might have been Little Thornbills, but I can’t be sure.

A Starling in a hurry

Common Starling

Common Starling

Common Starlings are not my favourite birds.

In fact, here in Australia they are considered a pest, especially by fruit growers and people who have a few fruit trees in their back yard. A small flock can completely ruin a crop of apricots in a few hours, for example.

There is a wider environmental issue to also consider. Common Starlings are often found in flocks of hundreds and even number in the tens of thousands in fruit growing areas. Large flocks like this feed on the crops when they are ripe; for the rest of the year they are seriously depleting food sources of many of our native species. Even worse is the fact that they use tree hollows for their nests, thus denying native birds precious nesting sites. They are also very messy in their nesting habits, fouling the hollows to the point where only Starlings will reuse the hollow.

Last night I was at an outdoor function being conducted by our church. We hold this event on Sunday evenings every year in January  in the town sound shell. Despite the very loudly amplified music the birding was spectacular. Not many species flew over, mind you, but one incident involving a Common Starling really caught my attention.

Two Australian Hobbies (Little Falcons) live around the CBD and I’ve seen them soaring around the area on a number of occasions. One of them zoomed past the sound shell at great speed heading for some trees in the park opposite. It did a few loops around a tall pine tree disturbing a Common Starling in the process which sped of in the opposite direction, hotly pursued by the falcon. Both disappeared behind a building. I hope that the falcon caught his supper.