Flocking and roosting of Purple-backed Starlings

on 20th September 2012

The Purple-backed Starling, also known as Daurian Starling (Sturnus sturninus), is a common winter visitor and passage migrant to Singapore. Large numbers begin to arrive in September and October when they migrate south to avoid the cold northern winter. They are also seen around March. In the late evenings these birds are known to arrive in large numbers at their roosting sites, generating loud noises with their combined cries. They make spectacular aerial displays before settling down to roost in trees.

We have been monitoring them yearly: February 2007 LINK, November 2008 LINK, October LINK and November 2009 LINK and October 2010 LINK. There was not report in 2011 but that does not mean that the starlings were not around.

In October this year, the flock is very much larger than before, estimated at between 30,00 and 50,000 birds – the largest flock ever recorded for a single location. National University of Singapore researcher Fung Tze Kwan came across these flocks on 8th September in Yishun. One week later, Wang Luan Keng and a few of her assistant researchers went and recorded these videos.

The main flock all landed on a large angsana tree (Pterocarpus indicus) that is about 12 stories high. Smaller flocks keep on arriving on to the scene, landing some distance from the main roost. After several minutes, they formed a single large flock, moving in formation, covering the entire sky and swirling around several times before also landing on the angsana tree (above). It was a spectacular sight indeed.

Besides the starlings, there were also large flocks of mynas and parakeets joining in the action. But they did not use the same tree, landing on several other trees around.

Interestingly, when we were filming the scenes, we attracted a lot of attention from passer-bys. One boy noted to his father: “Daddy, what are they doing? Look, there are a lot of birds in the sky!” Have the residents of Yishun got used to the daily ruckus of noise and the spectacular displays of the starlings in the sky above?

There are three theories why birds indulge in communal roosting: (1) The roosting site can be an information exchange centre. This has been proven by many researchers around the world working on different communal-roosting birds. Luan’s own honours project on Javan Mynas led to this conclusion. (2) Communal roosting serves as predator avoidance as there are many more birds on the look out for predators. And when a predator does arrive, the mass of flying birds would certainly confuse the predator. (3) The presence of so may birds in a tree help to provide insulation against the cold.

Some residents are in the opinion that these birds should be managed, due to the resulting noise pollution, bird faeces, etc. We would like to receive feedbacks from readers on this. Now, what if you are a resident living in the HDB block next to the angsana tree? Would you admire the aerial display and value the annual roosting of these birds as a something unique that should be left alone? Or would you call for the birds to be got rid of?

Wang Luan Keng
September 2012

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

11 responses

  1. Yes, I noticed the typo just as I hit the submit button, and am actually awaiting advice on how to amend a reply without having to create another post. Thanks anyway for your comment and interesting link.

  2. Responding to the comment “Some residents are in the opinion that these birds should be managed, due to the resulting noise pollution, bird faeces, etc. We would like to receive feedbacks from readers on this.”

    I think the most dangerous and destructive animal that needs some control measures is man. Much of animal (and bird) life change in behavior that seems to impinge on mankind is due to our destruction of their environment and lack of limits to our growth.

    Much of mankind believes we are sentient and higher on the evolutionary cycle and so deserve to “rule” or have our own way. However if we consider all life as sentient and deserving of respect then perhaps we can stop our psychotic ways.

    blessings to the birds & other creatures, even though they may mess up my home (it is theirs as well)

  3. As a resident of the area (Yishun Street 11) – they’ve become a common sight and we’re used to it. They also roost on the upper floors of the block, sitting on the railings and anywhere else they can find footing on. During the season, if I open my doors around 6am I can sometimes catch them roosting on the grilles of my door.

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