Starling Central a.k.a. Starlingation

posted in: Roosting, Vocalisation | 2

“The Asian Glossy Starlings (Aplonis panayensis strigata) are a very gregarious species. The past 30 plus years have seen their numbers ‘explode’ in the cities I have lived in. In Ipoh they have grown in volume, such that they are extremely common.

“They will often collect/roost in large numbers, what I call ‘Starlingation’ (congregation of starlings). In the early 1980s I remember individual trees where a few hundred would roost in the evenings have loud discussions. As their numbers have grown, so have these communal roosting sites. Their current favourite meeting spot in our area is near Jusco Supermarket. I call this spot Starling Central. It is hard to suggest what numbers roost at this site are but the minimum we would put it is 5,000. But it may go up to 10,000.

“I went with my wife twice yesterday to try and document this phenomenon. But my comments below are based on many years of casual observation of this site when we cycle or drive past.

“At Starling Central they will collect in large numbers in a long row of trees, often spilling over into the surrounding areas. They begin to arrive around 6.30pm and build to a crescendo around 7.00pm. They make a racket, all talking and listening together at the same time. This discussion continues until 8.30-9.00pm but involve only part of the group. Arrival is frantic and rushed with no regard for humans or vehicle traffic in the area. All trying to get to one ‘designated’ tree that serves, for some reason, as the best tree to be located in for the night. Many have to settle for subsidiary trees.

“In the morning they re-start the discussion around 6.00-6.30am and just before 7.00am (varied depending on time of year and sunrise) they will break off and go in different directions in smaller flocks. The process of breaking off is interesting to watch. One bird, attempting to be the leader, will fly off and some will follow with many staying put. The group that flew off will then circle back and return. This goes on repeatedly until a ‘decision’ is made on whom to follow and they break up, subdividing as they go along, until they are in smaller groups of 20-50. They fly like bullets and you can see them whiz past in the early mornings. I suspect the evening discussion is to give feedback on the wonderful places they have been and the excellent food they have eaten. The early morning communication is to loudly proclaim that they know where to go to get a good/juicy bite for the day.

“One additional point. At certain times of the year Starling Central is empty. I am unsure why. It could be related to breeding or that other sites temporarily hold sway. Or perhaps the management of the supermarket get frustrated with dropping and chases them away.

“It is difficult to capture the experience and intensity of Starling Central, but some images and audio recordings (better than images) below.

Disclosure: Images were taken in late evening with low light and I used flash 3 times to try and show density in trees.

Images from top down: Adult starlings packed together in trees; immature starlings; temporary perch on a billboard to catch their breath before plunging into the trees.

1. An audio recording of the “din”, not amplified. Once they reach their peak (like this recording) their voices are merged together and can sound rather pleasant.
2. Audio recordings at 6.45 and 6.55 pm, not amplified. Softer and individual voices and be differentiated. And HERE.

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh City, Malaysia
16th October 2010

Comment by Tou Jing Yi, “I saw the Jungle Mynas (Acridotheres fuscus) congregating there as well the other day, it is worth checking if any Purple-backed Starlings (Sturnus sturninus) would hide within, it would be a bonus if you find a couple of White-shouldered Starlings (Sturnus sinensis) and superb if you can find the even rarer Chestnut-cheeked or Rosy (Sturnus philippensis).

2 Responses

  1. Tou Jing Yi

    there are seemingly some error in my comments, example is the scientific name for the Jungle Myna, that was the scientific name of Hill Myna + Purple-backed Starling. Purple-backed Starling is also possible to join the crowd but less common up north, more regular in Central Malaysia onwards.

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