COMMON STARLINGS REVISITED

What were once known as European Starlings have now become the Common Starling, doubtless because they have spread so successfully around the globe and continue to breed prolifically. They are not my favourite bird, simply because they don’t belong here. Don’t they? Surely after a period of over 120 years, since their introduction to South Africa, they should be regarded as belonging? It might have been the constant reminder of them being European starlings that drummed into us the exotic nature of their origin. Their scientific name, Sturnus vulgaris, doesn’t endear them to one either – given their strutting, rather rude manners at feeding stations. They were introduced in Cape Town by Cecil John Rhodes sometime between 1897 and 1899 and have been expanding their territory and establishing their presence here ever since.

Negative responses to this bird by the general public are emotive, so let us be fair and acknowledge their attractiveness – look at the iridescent green and purple gloss of their feathers and the white flecking / spots created by the white tips of the feathers. We used to get the odd one visiting our garden, but over the past twenty years these numbers have increased to periodic visits by a handful of birds – much larger flocks have been visible on school sports fields – and over the past three years or so, Common Starlings have become regular visitors to the garden. I am gradually accepting them as ‘belonging’ and actually find that they display interesting characteristics when observed closely. Look at this one’s slicked-back ‘hairstyle’:

An interesting observation is that their bills are dark during winter and gradually change to yellow during the summer breeding season. The photographs above and below were taken during November last year – see the yellow bill – and the first one taken earlier this month – the bill has already darkened as summer is coming to an end.

Common Starlings are here to stay and we simply have to accept that they ‘belong’ after all!

24 thoughts on “COMMON STARLINGS REVISITED

    • They are, which is probably why Cecil John Rhodes decided to import them to this country. He brought several other birds too, but not many survived and the starlings took readily to their new environment – as they have elsewhere in the world.

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  1. I just read that they were introduced into North America during that same decade. I’ve never seen one up close, but only at a distance and as a member of a large flock doing their mesmerizing aerial ballet — which has not been “showing” for many years. When these flocks were around the farmers would always talk about how they didn’t appreciate the damage that the starlings inflicted on crops.

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  2. No denying their prettiness, and that’s probably why Rhodes brought them here, but I’m finding it really hard to acknowledge that they, and the “Common” Myna, are welcome here. There are so many beautiful indigenous birds here; why Rhodes felt the inclination to supplant a few additions is beyond me…

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  3. They are not yet present were we are. I also feel sorry for them as it is humans who brought them here, and it seems unfair to hold it against them for their ability to adapt and survive. Hopefully, they coexist with other birds without being detrimental to their survival.

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    • I am not aware of their presence being detrimental to our truly indigenous birds; they are regarded as pests by grain farmers though for they gather in large flocks which can decimate the newly planted grain – or grain ready for harvesting. I tend to agree with you about their acceptance which is why I decided to doff my hat to them for their resilience at least and to acknowledge their attractiveness. They were introduced to America as part of a plan to establish all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works!

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      • I can see how they (and other birds too sadly) can be a problem for grain farmers. I have mixed feelings about “alien” species in an increasingly cosmopolitan world. I am secretly relieved that we do not yet have mynahs in our neighbourhood nor European starlings, so to be honest I would be disappointed if they did turn up as I would worry about them hassling other birds. Good to know though that you have not found the starlings to be a problem in that regard.
        I wonder what Shakespeare would have thought about his long-term influence on American animal life!

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      • I need to get acquainted with the list – mostly songbirds I should think. That “project” is another reminder that humans can be amazingly sentimental in a rather self-centred kind of way!

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