Wattled Starling

Creatophora cinerea

Certainly one of our most social and numerous starlings, the Wattled Starling is also a nomadic bird that moves around in large flocks, following surges in insect numbers and seeding grasses, their principal foodstuffs, that often follow on good rains. They’re well known for following large grazing herbivores, eagerly pecking up insects disturbed by the movement of the large animals through the vegetation. Wattled Starlings are mostly found in open habitats with short grasscover, ranging from semi-deserts to savannas and open woodland.

Wattled Starlings nest colonially, with monogamous pairs building their untidy ball-shaped stick-nests in close vicinity to one another in thorny trees, with their breeding season spanning most of spring and summer. The parents take turns to incubate the clutch of 2-5 eggs over a period of only 11 days and co-operate to feed the chicks, which leave the nest about two weeks after hatching without being able to fly yet. As a result the nesting colonies are often heavily predated on by birds of prey and other meat-eaters for these easy pickings. Fully grown adults weigh in at about 70g and measure around 21cm in length. The pronounced wattles and brightly coloured facial features of the males are seen only during the breeding season, with older males having the most impressive appearance.

Wattled Starlings are commonly recorded in all South Africa’s provinces, with its wider distribution stretching throughout southern, central and eastern Africa to Ethiopia and Somalia. The IUCN considers the Wattled Starling to be of least concern.

17 thoughts on “Wattled Starling

    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      It seems the predators have an especially easy time in that period between the chicks leaving the nest and learning to fly, Carol, which makes their eagerness to leave the nest even more baffling.

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  1. photobyjohnbo

    I am always in awe of your wildlife photos. You must spend many hours chasing birds to build galleries like you share in your posts. Interesting how they leave the nests before being able to fly. That seems an unusual natural adaptation.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      You’re being as kind and generous with your commentary as ever, John, and I really appreciate it.
      There must be a very good reason for them to leave the nest prior to fledging and risk predation; as I said to Lois my guess would be that the communal nesting trees quickly become overrun by parasites and therefore the need to abandon the nests as quickly as possible. But it’s just my guess. Perhaps I should (I definitely should!) quit my day job and start studying the breeding behaviour of the Wattled Starling for a few seasons and get us a definitive answer for such strange (to us anyway) behaviour.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      For China’s sake I hope there’s native wildlife left there to help keep the locusts under control – swarms as large as those that’s currently raiding eastern Africa are absolutely devastating to a country’s food security, especially so those already impoverished.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thanks very much, Anne. They’re quite frustrating to watch, being so constantly on the move, and quickly too, so that it’s difficult to keep one bird in the eye and see what it gets up to.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      That’s a very interesting question, Lois, and I don’t have a definite answer. But if I were to hazard a guess I’d say that the massive numbers and close proximity of their nests in the breeding colonies probably causes a massive increase in parasites (fleas, lice, mites) to the point where staying in the nest becomes unbearable.

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