June 6th   Leave a comment

There seemed there might be a last gasp of spring today with a few good birds turning up on the May Island today: late specials like a red-backed shrike, a marsh warbler and an icterine warbler. I went out at lunchtime checking our best shrike sites – Balcomie and Kilminning – but no luck. No sign of any migrants at all brought in by the light easterlies and rain of the last two days. There were lots and lots of young starlings though. They fledged a couple of weeks ago and they have been hiding in dense bushes and tree canopies ever since. They are very vulnerable when they leave the nest – most fledglings are – but because lots of starlings fledge at the same time and they are relatively large and noisy it attracts the attention of crows and gulls. I watched a carrion crow hunting them last week. It flew repeatedly at young starlings hiding in the canopy of a sycamore at Fife Ness, with their parents shrieking and diving ineffectively at the crow. On about the third pass one youngster lost its nerve and flew out. A short chase and then it was grabbed out of the air by the crow and carried in its bill down to the beach below. The crow pulled it apart in a few seconds and began feeding. A starling obviously needs a couple of weeks to get good enough at flying to avoid crows, and then they come out of cover and start foraging out in the open like their parents. Today was clearly coming out day at Balcomie, with flocks of juveniles in the horse field. They retreated very quickly back into cover when disturbed so they were not totally confident. In another week they will be secure enough to move down to the beach to feed and to seek cover in the air if attacked. They will still be at risk from sparrowhawks and later on merlins, when they get here at the end of July, but there will be safety in numbers at least.

Young starlings keeping in cover at Balcomie Castle today (WC)
A carrion crow eating a newly fledged starling it caught at Fife Ness last week – one that didn’t stay in cover (WC)

Posted June 6, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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