Large flocks of Red-winged Starlings (Onychognathus morio) visit the Natal fig in our garden during the fruiting season. Then their mellifluous whistles and harsh grating sounds fill the garden with sound. Should a loud vehicle pass by then up to a hundred of them will briefly darken the sky as they flee from the sound. They form breeding pairs during the summer months and so we see far fewer of them. Several pairs – and later their offspring – nonetheless regularly visit the feeding areas to see what fruit and other food is available.
Males and females are glossily black and sport brick-red / russet windows in their wings that are particularly striking in flight. The head of the male is black, while the head of the female is grey – making it easy to tell them apart.
Although I put out fruit almost daily, I notice that the Red-winged Starlings seem to wait until the main rush of birds is over before they come down to feed. Their size must be intimidating to other birds, such as the tiny Cape White-eyes and even the larger Olive Thrushes, as they tend to give way immediately and scuttle into the bushes. Perhaps this deference could also have something to do with the strong sharp beak of the Red-winged Starling!
They have adapted well to living in urban spaces, where they nest on buildings instead of the cliffs they would have chosen in their natural environment. I regularly observe a pair of Red-winged Starlings inspecting a large hole in the eaves above my study window, only to be rebuffed by the regular residents – Speckled Pigeons – who have no intention of giving up their real estate! This young male Red-winged Starling, seen in the Mountain Zebra National Park, has been ringed.