28 March 2014

Keeping Starlings under surveillance

Graham Martin, Worcestershire writes:

While local bird watchers have been marvelling at some spectacular murmurations of Starlings, my attention has been focused very closely on my local colony of about two dozen resident Starlings.

I have eleven boxes up around the garden and for the last five years, one has been rigged with a standard IR nest box camera. Ten of the boxes are now occupied and breeding has got underway very early this year, with the first egg laid on March 18th, in the camera nest box. According to BTO records, this is the 9th earliest date ever recorded for Starlings. It was 25 days earlier than the first egg that I observed in 2013.

Starling under surveillance - Graham Martin

One very interesting behaviour has been the male singing at full volume repeatedly from within the box. Given his mimicry this has meant that from my box I have had a succession of Buzzards, Chickens and Little Owls.

The first egg appeared and was duly noted on March 18th, but on the second day I switched the camera on at 06:00 and soon after watched as a bird entered the box, poked around a bit and then removed the egg. Fifteen minutes later a bird entered the box and showed more nesting behaviour until at about 10:00 another egg was laid. So the nest record now shows two successive days with one egg but because of what the video revealed, I know that this is in fact the second egg for the nest.

Starling - Terry Levitt

Just what is going is very difficult to say. Last year I also recorded two successive days with just one egg. At that time I assumed that the female had just interrupted laying for one day, but it could well have been that the first egg was also removed last year. Who took the egg? There are many options but it could be another female from one of the nearby nests helping herself to some ready nutrients or it could be a rival male trying to decrease someone else’s paternity.

I hope that this year, because of the early breeding and the mild and damp conditions, these starlings will be able to produce two broods, like last years camera box nest, but whether it was the same adults will remain a mystery.

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