Harbingers of winter

Rosy Starlings are our winter visitors and they help in eliminating locusts in the fields.

December 12, 2015 05:47 pm | Updated December 13, 2015 02:40 pm IST - Bengaluru

Floppy chirpers They are known for their murmurations Photo: Bopanna Pattada

Floppy chirpers They are known for their murmurations Photo: Bopanna Pattada

Year after year, flocks of rosy starlings (pastor roseus) migrate from Eastern Europe across Sothern Asia to the south. The bird is definitely a strong migrant — to be able to take that distant travel in winter to India. The starling is a winter visitor in Sri Lanka and India, including the states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and the rest of Andhra.

“Rosy starlings have already arrived in the city in certain locations,” says Joiston Pereira. “These pretty birds are often the harbingers of the yearly migration of birds to our southern shores, wintering here before going back,” shares avid birder Deepa Mohan. “These birds, also called as rosy pastors, are a delightful sight as flocks of them flutter in the air, settling like pinkish leaves, on trees.”

According to Wiki, these birds belong to the starling family and the adult of this species is highly distinctive, with its pink body, pale orange legs and bill. It has a glossy black head, wings and tail. Males in the breeding season have foppish head feathers, which form a wispy crest that is fluffed and more prominent when the bird gets excited. In fact, the floppy hair style of some of our male celebrities and models, seem to have been copied off the bird! Their song, says Wiki, is a typical mixture of squeaks and rattles, given with much wing trembling.

“Generally seen in large groups, it is a pleasure to watch the huge flock doing what is known as murmuration. Having migrated in millions to spend their winters here, these birds put up quite a show, especially at dawn and dusk. Researchers and scientists aren’t sure why murmurations happen but they have theories that suggest that this chaotic, yet graceful motion might be to confuse and ward off predators,” says Bopanna Pattada. While Swaroop Bharadwaj says, “Thousands gather and form a bird cloud which looks like a flock of honey bees travelling, from a distance.”

Their numbers are so large and because they move around in flocks, they often appear to outnumber the local starlings and mynas in the city.

“Recently, I saw both rosy starlings and chestnut tailed starlings at Hoskote around 8.30 a.m.,” says Mohit Aggarwal. In China, a research conducted on these birds in the 80s found that they primarily feed on flightless locusts. This practice helped in the elimination of locusts in fields where they were the main crop pests, thereby reducing dependence on chemical insecticide which is harmful for humans. By the end of the 20 Century, application of insecticide to the crops was decreased to a great extent, says the study.

Migration of rosy starlings has been going on for centuries and it’s a great feeling to welcome our winter visitors year after year, say Bengaluru bird lovers.

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