STARLINGS - FERAL PESTS
Australia - History and why they are a threat
The Common Starling was originally introduced to Australia in order to decrease the population of crop pests—insects which the starlings were known to eat. Early settlers looked forward to the bird’s arrival, believing that starlings were also important to the pollination of flax, an important crop. Nest-boxes for the newly released species were placed on farms and near crops. The Common Starling was introduced to Melbourne in 1857 then Sydney in 1880. By the 1880s, established populations were present in the southeast, thanks to the work of acclimatization committees. By the 1920s, starlings were widespread through Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales, but they were now recognized as pests and Western Australia banned their import in 1895.
The Common Starling
threatens both Australian economy and biodiversity. They commonly eat and damage fruit from orchards, such as grapes, peaches, olives, currants, and tomatoes. In addition, starlings dig up newly sown grain and diminish already growing crops—an easy task for a flock of 500 – 150,000 birds. The Common Starling will also eat and foul food meant for livestock, putting the health of livestock at stake. The accumulation of waste left behind by large flocks may ruin human water supplies and cities, as well as natural habitats for Australian fauna.
Australia is home to numerous endemic plants and animals — species that live nowhere else on earth. The Common Starling is an aggressive bird that displaces other hollow nesting, endemic Australian birds. With so many of these native species already endangered, the starling poses a significant threat. They also pose a risk to the native and endemic Australian flora. Seeds will often germinate more successfully after ingestion, and, as they are capable of eating almost any kind of seed and flying great distances, Common Starlings are excellent weed dispersers. They are responsible for spreading invasive plant species such as the Bridal Creeper.
As a result, the government of Western Australia has gone to great lengths to keep the Common Starling on the other side of their borders. In the state's 2007-2008 budget, an additional A$4.9 million (2007) was allocated to the control and eradication program. New flocks are routinely shot down, while the less cautious juveniles are trapped and netted. New methods are currently being developed, the first of which tags one bird and follows it back to the rest of the flock, exposing a new population for termination. The second analyzes the DNA of Australian Common Starling populations to track where the migration from eastern to Western Australia is occurring so that better preventative strategies can be used.
Starlings - The Species
The Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), also known as the European Starling or just Starling.
The plumage is shiny black, glossed purple or green, and spangled with white, particularly strongly so in winter. Adult male European Starlings are less spotted below than adult females. The throat feathers are long and loose, and used as a signal in display. Juveniles are grey-brown, and by their first winter resemble adults though often retain some brown juvenile feathering especially on the head in the early part of the winter. The legs are stout, pinkish-red. The bill is narrow conical with a sharp tip; in summer, it is yellow in females, and yellow with a blue-grey base in males, while in winter, and in juveniles, it is black in both sexes.
The Common Starling body length is 19-23cm.
It is a highly gregarious species in autumn and winter. Flock size is highly variable, with huge flocks providing a spectacular sight and sound usually occurring near roosts. Flocks form a tight sphere-like formation in flight, frequently expanding and contracting and changing shape, seemingly without any sort of leader. Very large roosts, exceptionally up to 1.5 million birds, can form in city centres, woodlands, or reedbeds, causing problems with their droppings. These may accumulate up to 30 cm deep, killing trees by their chemical concentration; in smaller amounts, the droppings are, however, beneficial as a fertiliser.