Throughout history, one of the greatest scourges of man’s crops has been the locust and the delectation for this pest of several species of a starling, such as the Rose-colored starling. The Common Mynah and the Wattle starling brought them to man’s attention many centuries ago. Other species are better known as pests.
Most species of starling are resident but some migrate. The Violet-backed starling and the Blue-eared Glossy starling undertake local migrations in Africa and the theBrahminy starling make similar move-mints in India. The Gray starling migrates from its breeding areas in the eastern USSR, northern China, and Japan to winter in southern China and the Philippines. Northern populations of the European starling migrate to milder climates for the winter, those from Siberia heading south towards the northern shores of the Indian Ocean while Scandinavian birds migrate southwest towards the Atlantic seaboard.
Some starlings are nomadic. This applies particularly to the Wattle starling, which settles to breed where locusts abound but move son when the insects disappear, and the breeding sites of the Rose-colored starling, which winters in India, are determined by the abundance of insects in an area that has a large colony of birds one year may be deserted the next.
Starlings are small- to medium-sized birds that make their presence felt near human habitations through their ceaseless activity, loud calling, and squabbling. In general appearance, they are rather variable since forest-dwelling forms, like the African glossy star-lings, tend to have broad, rounded wings whereas those species that live in drier, more open habitats, such as the European starling, have longer and more pointed wings.
The legs and feet are fairly large and strong and the birds tend to walk, rather than hop. In the woodpeckers. The toes are also long and sharp to enable them to cling to tithe pelts of large mammals. The bill is rather stout and usually straight and reasonably long. Such a bill allows starlings to be catholic in their choice of food, and most eat invertebrates and fruit. Some are more omnivorous and include nectar and seeds in their diets. The tongue of the Brahmin star-ling bears a brush-like tip that is used for collecting pollen and nectar and the brush-like crests of some of the mynahs are believed to be important in pollination.
Some of the Southeast Asian starlings have areas of bare skin on the head, especially around the eye; these areas are yellowing in the Andaman starling, blue in Roth’s-Child’s mynah, and red in the Sulawesi star-ling. The amount of naked skin reaches its maximum in the bald starling, where feathering is restricted to a narrow strip of bristles running down the crown.
The Hill mynah and the Wattle starling develop fleshy wattles on the head; in the latter species the wattles appear, and head featherings are lost, mainly by birds coming into breeding condition but the wattles are subsequently resorbed and feathers grow anew. The Rose-colored and Brahmin starlings have long feathers on the head that can be raised into crests, and the sulfa starling has a stiff crest that is permanently erect.
Most starlings breed in holes in which they build bulky nests. Holes in trees and cliffs are commonly used, while close to human habitation nests may be made inside buildings. The Thin-billed chestnut-winged starling nests in holes behind waterfalls, and several species use holes made by other birds. Some starlings bore their holes, such as the Bank mynah in river banks and the Woodpecker starling in dead trees. A few species do not nest in holes, however: the superb starling builds a domed nest in inrushes and the Shining starling builds hanging nests, weaver fashion.
In many of the species that have been studied, both sexes incubate the eggs but the male usually plays the lesser role. In the Spotless starling, the male does not incubate at all, and yet in no species are males known to feed the female on the nest. Nestlings are fed by both parents but the role of the male can be variable. Cooperative breeding, where three or more fully grown birds may feed a brood of chicks in one nest, has now been demonstrated in some African starlings.
Most starlings are gregarious, breeding in colonies, feeding in flocks, and roosting com-manually at night. Several species of starling may roost together and they may also roost among other birds. Roosts are usually in trees but the European starling has recently adopted a habit of roosting in cities in flocks that can contain over a million birds.
During the last 400 years, four species are known or thought to have become extinct, two from Indian Ocean islands and two from islands in the Pacific. Rothschild’s mynah survives in a small population in a forest nature reserve in Bali, Indonesia. The European starling, on the other hand, is one of the most successful birds, with a world population running into hundreds of millions. The most dramatic example of the species’ success, however, comes from its introduction to North America: about 100 individuals were released in New York only 90 years later it is now one of the most numerous birds in North America.
The European starling causes extensive damage in Eurasia and North America beating grapes, olives, cherries, germinating wheat, and cattle food, while in northern Europe and central Asia, and New Zealand it is held to be useful on account of its destruction of insects. Many species are kept as cage birds, especially those, like the Hill mynah, with a capacity to mimic speech.
The feathers of some African glossy starlings are used for human adornment and several species are killed for food, including the European starling in southern Europe. The Wattled starling’s ability to resort to its wattles has been studied in cancer research, while its ability to re-grow feathers has been investigated by optimistic seekers of cures for human baldness!