Graham Martin and Peter Handy

We report here on the occurrence of a single Rose-coloured Starling in Aston Somerville (SP045382) between August 23rd and 25th 2002.

Rose-coloured Starlings (also known as Rosy Starlings (British Ornithologists' Union 1992)) are currently known under two scientific names Sturnus roseus ((Cramp & Perrins 1994) and Pastor roseus (Feare & Craig 1998). Feare's preference for the older generic name of Pastor places these birds in a mono-typic genus. His decision to use Pastor is an acknowledgement of the reduced specialisation of the skull structure and musculature for "prying". Prying or "open-billed probing" involves breaking into the surface of soil or short vegetation using a powerful opening movement of the beak. It is a particularly characteristic adaptation of Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris and is thought to be a principle factor in their successful colonisation of new areas around the world following the development of agriculture. Rose-coloured Starlings do not to pry but take insects mainly from the surface during the breeding seasons, switching to a diet of soft fruits (such as grapes and mulberries) at other times. However, Rose-coloured Starlings share many behavioural features in common with Common Starlings, especially their gregarious habits.

The Aston Somerville Rose-coloured Starling was seen for three days feeding with a flock of about 30 Common Starlings on Elder berries. The Rose-coloured Starling arrived and left with the flock that was circulating around the gardens of the village. The bird was an adult and was recorded with the flock on video on August 24th. After August 25th the flock remained but the Rose-coloured Starling was not seen again.

The nearest regular breeding areas for Rose-coloured Starlings are in the Balkans but the bulk of the population breed east of the Black Sea through central Asia as far as western China. These populations have an interesting pattern of movements. They are all migratory. The majority of birds disperse from breeding colonies soon after juveniles have fledged and by August the birds tend to start moving towards the wintering area of peninsular India and Sri Lanka. The population from the western end of the breeding range is thought to migrate almost directly east before heading southeast into India. However, vagrant records in both spring and autumn occur throughout Western Europe with birds having been recorded as far north and west as Iceland. Unlike many of the movements of "vagrant" birds, these movements of Rose-coloured Starlings are not thought to be weather assisted. Rather they represent extreme examples of post breeding dispersal or spring migratory overshoot. There are one or two records of birds having successfully over-wintered in Western Europe and there are records of irregular colonization in Italy, at the edge of the breeding distribution. However these westward colonisations have failed to extend the regular breeding range. This is probably due to the lack of the preferred food for the nestlings; the flightless "hopper" stages of developing locusts and grasshoppers. These typically occur in swarms near nesting colonies and the starlings are generally welcomed as natural predators of these insects.

Rose-coloured Starlings are spectacular birds that, like their common cousins, exhibit fascinating social behaviour, especially when in flocks. One of us has seen hundreds of these pink and black birds wheeling very much like Common Starlings, while others brought bright green hoppers to nests sited in scree, at a colony in Central Asia . It is exciting to speculate upon the factors that lead to this particular bird's late summer arrival in Aston Somerville. This bird was at least 2500km from its most likely breeding area and 8000km from its typical wintering area. Clearly Elder berries tied it over for a few days but whether these were sufficient to fuel the start of a proper migration to India seems unlikely. At the very least the bird would have to have moved south, possibly as far as the Mediterranean, to find soft fruits in sufficient abundance to see it through to the next breeding season.


BRITISH ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION 1992. Checklist of birds of Britain and Ireland. Tring, Herts., U.K.: British Ornithologists' Union.
CRAMP, S & PERRINS, C. M. 1994. Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
FEARE, C J & CRAIG, A. 1998. Starlings and Mynas. London: Christopher Helm.

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