Starlings as shorebirds

To: Birding-Aus <>, Birdchat <>, sabirdnet <>
Subject: Starlings as shorebirds
From: Willem Jan Marinus Vader <>
Date: Sat, 3 Sep 2016 18:24:30 +0000
Starlings as shorebirds

As a marine biologist, who is also a birder, and who has worked a lot in 
intertidal areas I have regularly come across 'trespassing landbirds', that act 
as shorebirds. There are of course a few specialists also here, such as a 
number of Cinclodes species in South America, Cobb's Wren in the Falklands and 
the Rock Pipit here in Europe; also our Hooded Crow acts as a regular shorebird 
much of the time here in Northern Norway. And when we have a sudden return of 
winter weather late in spring, as happens here now and then, and fresh snow 
covers much of the ground, lots of passerines flee to the intertidal and feed 
there; I have written on such occasions in a Norwegian journal.

But Starlings (and also wagtails) are in an in-between position. They are not 
regular shorebirds, but still exploit shore ressources quite regularly. Most of 
my examples come from Holland and western Norway, where I lived earlier, but 
also here north we find starlings regularly in the intertidal, and the few that 
try to winter in the outermost islands here north, mostly keep to the shore 
most of the time.

When I was a student in Holland (terribly long ago by now) we had every summer 
a summercamp called ' Shore birds and bottomfauna' on the island of Vlieland in 
the Wadden Sea, where many budding ornithologists (several later famous names 
there) came together to study the diet and feeding habits of the different 
shorebirds, while I was the bottom fauna man, who was supposed to know all the 
animals in the mudflats, as well as the tracks they left on the surface. One of 
these tracks was made by the large polychaete worm Nereis diversicolor, a small 
hole with a network of tracks radiating from it. And I soon found out that the 
local starlings knew these tracks as well as I did and walked from one to the 
next, trying to extract the ragworms (I have later seen Spotless Starlings in 
NW Spain do exactly the same).

Starlings also came and collected the debris on the shrimp-boats in the harbour 
of Den Helder, where I lived at the time. And later, in the Sognefjord in 
Western Norway , where at the time there was a large seasonal Sprat  Clupea 
sprattus fishery, where these small fishes were for a while kept in large 
holding nets in the fjord, with some mortality, starlings cruised like small 
helicopters over the surface and picked up the floating corpses.

The most shore-bird like behaviour I ave seen in starlings was also in the 
Sognefjord, although further inland, in late summer. Here starlings foraged in 
the intertidal at ebbtide, and in fact caught the amphipods I was studying at 
the time, as I suspect they do quite regularly many places. But what was very 
special this time, in my eyes, was that when the flood came and the intertidal 
no longer was accessible to shorebirds, the starlings sat in long rows on the 
telephone wires along the road, and rested, exactly as real shorebirds do at 
high tide!

Starlings are highly interesting birds, just because they are generalists and 
always open to new possibilities, and exhibit new behavioural traits.
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