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The bird with the Coat of Many Colours

Posted on 12th July, 2019

 

Or Joe Starling, as I call him, wearing his ‘Technicolour Dreamcoat’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                

In winter, Eastern European hordes (Joe Stalins?) swell our native population to create the magnificent murmurations captured on mobile phones across the country. But at this time of the year our garden feeders and lawns are filled with their noisy, squabbling offspring.

 

Not everyone though recognises the dull, uniformly brown youngsters as being the same species as the iridescent bluey-green, multicoloured-and-spotted adults. On the juvenile starling below, you can just make out the first adult feathers appearing on its back as it starts its moult. This process, in which it will shed every feather on its body and grow new, adult ones will take about a month. In the second picture, the young bird is close to finishing its transformation into adult plumage. The new set of feathers will be kept for a whole year, until after the bird has bred for the first time. Then, the old, worn feathers will be moulted yet again and replaced with a new set.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Like its Biblical namesake, Joe is resented by some because he attracts all the attention as he hogs the best food on the bird table, or a swarm of them overwhelms the blackbirds and thrushes probing the grass in fields or on hitherto quiet garden lawns.

But starlings don’t have it all their own way. Sparrowhawks are desperately hunting small birds to feed their own youngsters, and these birds are a favourite prey; not only are starlings a good sized catch for a male sparrowhawk (the larger females are busy brooding their own youngsters in the nest) they are often so busy squabbling they don’t spot the stealthy hunter until it’s too late to escape.

Like most other birds too, starlings have suffered from our regime of sanitising our gardens and countryside. Their insect prey is being sprayed out of existence, and war is waged on the leatherjackets (the larvae of daddy-longlegs, which starlings have evolved to depend on) by gardeners looking for the perfect lawn. Leatherjackets feed on the roots of grasses, making it difficult for us to achieve the impossibly uniform lawns promoted by garden chemical manufacturers. The Lord is certainly quoted as saying “Go forth and multiply” - hence all the starlings at this time of the year - but I’ve yet to find a reference to  “Go forth and spray”. Enjoy their clownish antics while you still can.

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