The Thing with Starlings.
We have twelve species of starlings in our Checklist. Six are in Cat A, one in Cat C, five in Cat E.
Cat A-Species recorded in a wild state during last 50 years.
Only the Asian Glossy Starling is a resident, the rest are either winter visitors, passage migrants or vagrants.
Cat C-Introduced species that may or may not be self sustaining.
Black-winged Starling. A small breeding population on St. John’s Island in the 1980s but had died out after 1995. There was a record from Queenstown.
Cat E-Species that are suspected of being released or escapees.
Let’s take a look at some recent starling sightings and how they were treated.
- Red-billed Starling (Vagrant)
First recorded on 25 December 1993 at Lorong Halus. Listed in Cat D- Species which maybe wild but possibility of escape and release cannot be ruled out. It was moved to Cat A in 2017 after a sighting at Gardens by the Bay on 30 November 2013 and another at Tampines Eco Green on 27 Dec 2015.
Third record of the Red-billed Starling at Tampines Eco Green by Seng Alvin.
- Chestnut-cheeked Starling ( Vagrant)
First record at Loyang on December 1987. Accepted and listed in Cat A as their main wintering range is in the Philippines and a second bird was recorded in Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia eight weeks later. Our second record was at Bidadari on October 2014 followed by two sightings last year. One over at Henderson Wave on 16 November and the other at Pandan Canal in December.
- Rosy Starling ( Vagrant)
Several records during the winter months at Tuas grasslands and Changi Cove were convincing enough for it to be listed under Cat A. However the pristine adult that appeared at the Gardens by the Bay on September 2016 was more likely to be an escapee due to the early date and tame behaviour.
Frankie Cheong’s photo of the Brahminy Starling taken at Bidadari in 2013.
- Brahminy Starling. ( Escapee/released)
The first sighting at the grasslands at Marine East on February 2008 was assigned to Cat E for suspected escapee and released birds. In the past seven years we had three more sightings, Bidadari on 3 December 2013, GBTB on 13 September 2016 and Punggol Barat on 8 February 2016. No records were submitted for these sightings presumably of its popularity as cage bird due to its bright orangey plumage. So this species remained in Cat E. A good candidate for re-evaluation.
Brahminy Starling photographed at Punggol Barat by Francis Yap in 2016.
A pristine Brahminy Starling shot at the Gardens by the Bay on 10 September 2016 by Terry Heppell. It was reported to be tame and very approachable.
- Asian Pied Starling ( Escapee/released)
Small numbers seen at Choa Chu Kang, Saribum and Kranji Reservoir since 1982. A pair nested at the NSRCC Kranji Sanctuary Golf Course but no chicks were seen. An individual appeared at Harvest Link this month.
This Asian Pied Starling made an appearance at Harvest Link. Photographed by Pary Sivaraman on 8 January 2020.
- White-cheeked Starling ( Status to be determined)
One was sighted at Seletar Aerospace Drive on 16 January 2020 for the first time ( Martin Kennewell). The wintering range for this starling is Southern China and had been recorded in Myanmar, Northern Thailand and Philippines as vagrants. There were no records in Malaysia. Their range do not favour the vagrancy of this starling here due to the vast geographic gap, but Dave Bakewell pointed out that this starling is a mid and long range migrant, navigation routes, population size of the species should be taken into consideration as well.
White-cheeked Starling at Seletar Aerospace Drive by Alan OwYong. Status pending.
The plumage of this individual did not show signs of recent captivity. Captive birds do show signs of feather wear and tear or presence of bird lime but birds that have escaped or released can moult to a new set of feathers if it survived in the wild for a time.
This individual was reported to be wary of people and skittish, a sign of a wild bird?
The Records Committee will have to decide on the status of this starling if and when they received the submission. Rightly or wrongly the decision will be made by a committee. Comments and insights from our regional friends will be considered. The status of birds do change over time and the Records Committee will need to re-evaluate them from time to time. Timely submissions will help with the evaluation.
Tou Jing Yi of Ipoh sums it up best “ Starling is super headache when it comes to national records”.
Many thanks to Alvin Seng, Francis Yap, Terry Heppell, Frankie Cheong, Pary Sivaraman and Alan OwYong for the use of their photographs
Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009 Nature Society (Singapore)
Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia
Boonsong Lekaul & Philip D. Round. A Guide to the Birds of Thailand.