FW: Starlings as shorebirds



From: Wim Vader <wjm.vader@gmail.com&gt;
Sent: tirsdag 14. februar 2023 11:43
To: Willem Jan Marinus Vader <wim.vader@uit.no&gt;
Cc: Riet Keuchenius <mmkeuchenius@gmail.com&gt;; Hayo H.W. Velthuis <hhwv@xs4all.nl&gt;
Subject: Starlings as shorebirds


Starlings as shorebirds (In defense of starlings)


When I mention in my writings, that we here in the Tromsø area have put up nest boxes especially for Starlings, I always get surprised and/or irritated reactions: "Do you really want to help these pestilential birds? You can get ours". I am of course fully aware of the fact that the European Starling Sturnus vulgaris in many parts of the world is an unwelcome newcomer, often outcompeting local birds for nesting holes, but here the situation is different: Starlings belong here and the numbers are dangerously decreasing, due to changes in agricultural practices and lack of nesting opportunities in modern houses and farms. And Starlings are welcome harbingers of soon coming spring in N. Norway, where they are among the earlier migrants.


It is very much a pity that Starlings have such a bad reputation, as it prevents people from looking closer at these most intelligent opportunists. They also have a definite devil-may-care personality; the great naturalist Jac. P. Thijsse in the Netherlands caught this perfectly in his ex libris, which showed a starling singing in the rain, with as text ‘Onbekommerd’ (i.e. No worries).


Starlings are opportunists, and here I want to give a few examples that they even may act as shore birds now and then; in fact, they forage a lot in the intertidal here in northern Norway, and the few that try to winter, are invariably on the outermost islands.


I grew up in the Netherlands and as a student took part in yearly summercamps on ‘Shorebirds and Bottom fauna’, where we studied the feeding habits of the many shorebirds in the Wadden Sea. I was the bottomfauna man  and i.a. got to know the manifold tracks made by the invertebrates living in the mud. One very characteristic somewhat star-shaped track, usually high up in the intertidal, we learned to know as the track of the large polychaete Nereis diversicolor. And I discovered that the local Starlings also had learned to recognize this track:  they now and then flew from one track to another and often extracted the worms.


 In Norway I have often watched Starlings foraging in the stony intertidal,  but usually it was not possible to pinpoint the prey.  I suspect they often took my beloved amphipods, often turning around stones as deftly as the Turnstones. One day, when I collected along the Sognefjord, the local starlings were so closely bound to intertidal foraging, that they collected and loafed on overhead wires for the few hours that the tides prevented them from foraging on the shore!


I have found also the southerly Spotless Starling foraging in the intertidal, on a sandy shore near Santander in northern Spain. I am unsure about the prey there, but I suspect they took beachhoppers.


As I said, Starlings are opportunists  and it was therefore hardly a surprise when I found them scrounging on the shrimp boats in the harbour of Den Helder.  They flew off and on and probably fed the shrimps to their begging young, still in the nest boxes. In Western Norway, there is seasonally in the fjords an active ‘sardine’ fishery, actually on Sprat Clupea sprattus. The fish are kept for a while in large standing nets after catching, where there is some mortality. The local starlings flew like small helicopters over the nets and picked up the floating dead sprats. I have seen similar activity in Holland, where some ever resourceful Starlings even used a small floating piece of wood as basis.


Starlings are highly intelligent and resourceful birds (One ‘played hummingbird’ to get at the peanut butter in Riet’s garden recently!), and always well worth watching. They definitely are not ‘only evil’, as many in the US and Australia seem to think.


 Wim Vader, Tromsø, N. Norway

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