Flocking Starlings

One of the bird species we frequently see at our bird feeders is the Cape Starling. These constantly chattering birds, with their iridescent feathers that gleam blue/green/purple, depending on the way the light catches them, flock around our bonemeal feeders in numbers at this time of the year.

Both our first memories of seeing glossy Starlings are from Kruger Park. Malcolm’s in September ’67 and Monica’s in the early seventies, both at the Tshokwane picnic spot. In those days, the picnic spot was just that – a place to stop and stretch your legs. Go to the bathroom and get hot water from the donkey, for a mug of tea or coffee. Not much for sale. It was rustic, peaceful in its simplicity – and busy. Visited daily by what seemed like thousands of Starlings, the air was filled with their chatter as they interacted in a positive and cheeky way with each other and the human visitors. Often there would be a few hornbills in their midst, competing for the crumbs from sandwiches and rusks, but it was the starlings that were there in numbers. These birds were not Cape Starlings but close cousins, Greater Black-eared Starlings.


A Cape Starling.

Greater Blue-eared Starling, photographed in Kruger National Park.

A male Violet-backed Starling at its nest in our garden.

We are fortunate to have other starlings visit our garden. Red-winged Starlings visit our feeders daily, we were very thrilled to have a pair of Violet-backed Starlings breed close to our patio 10 years ago. They used to be regular summer visitors, but we rarely see them now. We have also on occasion had Pied Starlings fly over our garden.

Some 35 years ago, I would regularly run through North Riding while training for Comrades. I remember that when the Wild Olives were fruiting in some years there would be thousands of Wattled Starlings here feeding off the fruit. In the last 20 years I have hoped there would be an influx of these lovely birds again. I am still living in hope.

We are grateful to have the Cape Starlings visit us in numbers each winter and spring, as they transport our minds to holidays in Kruger and happy times. But I believe this is a very stressful time for the resident pair of Starlings who breed here each summer. I feel they regard the invasion of their home range in the same light that residents of coastal resorts do to the hordes of Gauteng visitors during school holidays.  

“Our” local pair of Red-winged Starlings feeding from a bonemeal feeder.

  • Chittenden, H, Davies, G & Weiersbye, I        Roberts Bird Guide, 2nd Edition     2016
                             The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund    Cape Town    ISBN 978-1-920602-01-07.

© Monica & Malcolm D Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text & Photographs) 2019.