Wednesday 11 January 2017

In the Pink 11th January 2017

On 5th December 2016 I visited an unremarkable road in an equally unremarkable but pleasant housing estate located at Broadfield near Crawley in West Sussex. I was with my good friend Clackers and our reason for visiting Beachy Road was to see a juvenile Rose coloured Starling that was frequenting a small back garden in that road.

Our mission was quickly successful and satisfied with our views of the Rose coloured Starling, which being a juvenile was not rose coloured at all, we made our way back to Oxford. Today, just over a month later I made a repeat visit to Broadfield with Peter, another Oxonbirder colleague, as in the intervening month or so the Rose coloured Starling had progressed its moult to such an extent that it was now beginning to look like an adult and was well worth looking at again.

The Rose coloured Starling in early December 2016
The Rose coloured Starling in mid January 2017
The starling was visible immediately on our arrival but at first was a little coy, sitting in the trees but always contriving to be partially obscured by twigs and branches and at one time holly leaves, but eventually showed itself well on the outer exposed branches of a bare tree that hung over the garden it liked to feed in. 

In the intervening period between my first visit last month and today it had certainly changed considerably in appearance. Its head and breast are now turning increasingly glossy black with a prominent crest forming on its crown. The body plumage while not bright pink has certainly turned from buff to a brownish pale pink and its tail is now glossy black as are the majority of its wing feathers. Its bill is turning from yellow to pink.

As this bird remains unsexed all one can say is that it is now in its second calendar year and its plumage will continue to change rapidly from now on until presumably it will look like a true adult possibly similar to the one I saw in Norfolk (see image below) or will it? The body plumage of the individual at Broadfield, although now showing a definite pink tinge is nowhere near the saturated bright pink of the Norfolk individual. So my question is as follows: Do they not acquire the rich pink body plumage until their third calendar year? Or is this bird a female and therefore duller than a male which presumably was the sex of the Norfolk bird?  

Having little experience of this species apart from seeing six separate displaced migrants in Britain such as this one, I am not really qualified or able to supply an answer but some research online tells me that true adult males do not get their rich pink and black plumage until they are over two years old but second calendar year male birds do assume a duller plumage similar to a female. That is assuming the Broadfield bird is a male. It may well be a female in which case it will acquire its duller full adult plumage when it is a year old. We will have to wait and see.

Adult Rose coloured Starling
(Third calendar year or older)
Wells-next-Sea Norfolk June 2013

Second calendar year Rose coloured Starling 
Crawley West Sussex  January 2017
I guess a further visit or visits will show just how the plumage of the Crawley bird progresses. It will certainly be interesting to follow and for sure there will be no shortage of images to consult on the internet as birders are visiting the starling on a daily basis and it has become a bit of a celebrity amongst the residents of the surrounding houses.

The starling itself seems perfectly settled and why should it not be? It has a constant supply of food put out by the owners of the garden it favours, sharing the food and habitat amicably with Common Starlings, Chaffinches and Blackbirds amongst others and has the security of both conifer and deciduous trees at the bottom of the garden in which to perch and hide.

What a bird that normally spends the winter in peninsular India and Sri Lanka is doing eking out an existence far to the west in Great Britain is unanswerable but vagrants annually turn up in Great Britain and have also done so in many western European countries. These vagrant birds are often very confiding and the greatest numbers arrive when they have had a particularly good breeding season.

Other names for this bird are Rosy Starling and Rose coloured Pastor and recently it has been established that it is not related to our Common Starling and has been assigned to a genus of its own called Pastor. Its Latin binomen being Pastor roseus

Rose coloured Starling and Common Starling
All the time we were there it restricted itself to the small area that consists of the back garden it feeds in and the large conifer and two bare deciduous trees that grow at the end of the small garden. It is confiding and shows little concern at close approaches by birders and/or photographers.

During our visit a steady trickle of interested passers by, residents and birders came and went and the Rose coloured Starling sat in the bare boughs of its favourite tree and watched the proceedings, in between bouts of preening and bill wiping on the boughs of the tree.

The Rose coloured Starling spent much time wiping its bill on the branches
Note the nictitating membrane protecting its eye
We spent a happy hour watching the starling which eventually went to perch in the security of the foliage at the top of the conifer, out of sight but certainly not out of mind.

1 comment:

  1. Nice report. I'm hoping to visit Beachy Rd before going for a flight from Gatwick on Monday (!)...time tight so any tips on favoured location so I'm in with the best chance? Cheers, Adam