Spotting the nomadic Rosy Starling through Delhi's chatter

Read on to know more about medium-sized bird which visits the Indian sub-continent twice a year

March 12, 2020 01:22 pm | Updated 02:20 pm IST

A community of Rosy Starlings

A community of Rosy Starlings

One of my fondest memories is from four years ago, standing with my then 90-year -old Paati (grandmother) on our balcony, facing an old mulberry (Shatoot) tree. In spite of her diminished hearing, she could make out a cacophony of chattering calls from the tree and asked me if I knew what they were. I was quick to point out a flock of Rosy Starling, and spent 10 minutes telling her about them, their flocking roosting behaviour, and their constant chatter while roosting or feeding.

The Rosy Starling is a medium-sized (19-24 cm) passerine (perching) bird in the starling family, gregarious in nature, thus living and moving in communal harmony. It is a vision in black and pale pink, hence the name. The males are often more vibrant than the females. During their breeding time (May-June), they assume a longer crest and showcase a pink beak and legs (yellow-orange-ish in non-breeding times). Juveniles are considerably duller with brown, black, and white shades on the body. The scientific name Pastor roseus has been derived from the Latin word ‘pastor’ meaning shepherd and ‘roseus’, literally meaning rosy or rose-coloured.

Starlings are mostly found in flocks, and this bird is no different. It breeds in Eastern Europe and certain parts of Asia in huge colonies along the Steppes. During breeding season, they follow an insectivore diet, feeding mostly on invertebrates. At this time, they help farmers get rid of locusts and other pests on their land, thus acting like natural pest controllers. Their breeding is lined perfectly with the abundance of locusts and grasshoppers to satiate their innate need for food during these times. Once the pairing is complete, both adults assist in building a nest which is placed in crevices on cliffs, in old buildings, and in tree holes as well.

Their feeding behaviour changes drastically when they migrate in mid July-August, to the Indian Subcontinent and other tropical areas in Asia. Here they feed on fruits and berries (wild and cultivated) and also eat white millet ( jowar ) with an occasional insect too.

The Rosy Starling is a strong flier, has a direct flight, accompanied by rapid wing-beats and short glides. It is one of the very few birds that spends very less time in its breeding range and spends most of the year in its wintering range.

Huge flocks of these starlings often indulge in a mass aerial stunt where thousands of birds swoop and dive in unison — called starling murmuration, a phenomenon captured in several videos and pictures online.

It is a mesmerising act of pure pleasantry. One may assume that they flock together to evade predators like falcons and eagles that have the tendency to hunt singled out birds.

They usually perform these stunts especially at dawn and dusk, coming out of roost or before they roost for the night.

Rosy Starlings lead quite the nomadic life and are seen in Delhi twice. Once is in September when flocks spend a few days in our garden by roosting in fruiting trees like mulberry, and then carrying on Southwards (till even Sri Lanka). The second time is during their reverse migration in the month of March-April, when they move upwards and then to their breeding grounds. The best places to see their murmuration are Lodhi Garden, India Gate and other open areas with a lot of fruit-bearing trees in Lutyen’s Delhi.

My grandmother believed that one’s never too old to learn something new, and always showed a keen interest in my work. Ever since she learned to recognise this bird following our first conversation, she would often point them out to me and others who visited her. I lost her recently.

Now, a Rosy Starling will always remind me of her incredible strength, free-spirited nature, and her determination to learn and share her knowledge with others. The fact that she always supported me in all my endeavours, will continue to motivate me to show people the beautiful world outside (and sometimes inside) their homes and offices.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India

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