A few days ago we were stopped listening to a squirrel alarm calling at a predator in the bush. This could have meant there was a bird of prey, snake, leopard or any other predator around. So we drove off-road towards the distressed squirrel to see what it was looking at. On our way over there, we got a little distracted…
I love bird behaviour. The way birds fit into ecological niches within the ecosystem is fascinating. I often find watching birds more exciting than many other animals. Hence, the dispute we were to watch was really exciting.
Two purple rollers were sitting in a dead tree, a little more than a foot away from a Burchell’s Starling pair.
To find both the wonderfully iridescent starling and vibrant purple roller in the same place was already exciting. But more interestingly, the two pairs seemed determined not to share the same branch.
The pair of starlings were chirping and displaying frantically at a pair of purple rollers. The two rollers – which I assumed were a male and female pair – were perched on the end of a branch, seemingly minding their own business. The starlings were, however, very unhappy with the presence of the rollers. The starlings were perched on the same branch a little further up and were hysterical. But why?
One starling seemed to have a little more courage than the other and crept down towards the rollers. After a tireless bout of chirping, it finally lost its cool and flew at the rollers, attempting to peck them off the branch. The roller on the left was disturbed and flew away with the starling close behind, hounding it in flight. They flew to other perches nearby, calling and squawking as they fought to either get away from or peck one another. Finally they both returned to the same perch and the quarrel continued…
The second part was a very interesting display from the braver roller (the one on the right). As both starlings let out their most powerful chirps, the roller stood its ground by displaying back to them. The roller lifted and then dipped its head whilst sticking out its bright purple chest over and over again. It called straight back at the starling.
Eventually – and I wish I caught the last bit on film – the starlings got so frustrated that they both flew into the rollers, pecking them and flailing their wings as they did so. They chased the rollers in flight for some time until the rollers were a distance away.
Why were the starlings so perturbed by the presence of these two rollers? Are they competition for food? Maybe: both starlings and rollers eat mostly insects.
But the reality in this case, was what made the dispute so intense was the proximity to the starling’s nest in the dead tree.
Once the fight had ended and the rollers chased away, the starlings returned to the same tree and visited a little hole where we suspect a few hatchlings to be hidden. A roller would not hesitate to eat a helpless chick if it had a chance, so you can understand the aggression.
The sighting was unique and had us all enthralled. The world of birds and their behaviours continues to fascinate me…
Birds are fascinating Bruce. We watched quite a few bird interactions in the Kalahari recently. The best one was three Cape Crows. Two of them were fighting with a third one. They actually had it pinned down on the sand and pecking it. The crow trued to hide in the hollow of the roots of a Camelthorn tree. Every time it came out of hiding, the others were onti it. We did not know if it was for territory or why they behaved like that. And the strange calls and noises they made. Amazing.
Great sighting–loved the imaginative details!
Bruce, Chuck and I were sitting at breakfast in California checking our emails when we saw your story about the confrontation between the starlings and the purple rollers. We were the lucky couple to be in your vehicle when this occurred……so it immediately brought back all our exciting memories from our recent visit to Londolozi. I think I have the photo you referred to as missing in your article. Is there a way for me to email it to you ?
I’d love to share it.
Best regards and we look forward to seeing more of your posts.
Bruce, I love watching birds, but unfornately who ever I am with does not like watching birds. I like watching birds – the interaction they have, they are so interesting! Great blog today – I have never seen a Purple Roller, I have seen Starlings before. It was very interesting the way the Starlings drove away the Purple Roller.
Thank you Bruce for the fascinating commentary on these two pairs of birds. Your images helped to explain the posturing by both species, neither of which I’ve seen in the wild. Did all this occur over a few minutes?
Hi Bruce, it is always interesting watching birds. When I was growing up in DC, we had a bird feeder and
The Starlings were the bullies. They would clear the feeder in a minute. Also they were not shiny and black. So I was pleased that least the roller “fought” back. I suspect city birds do not have any “manners”. It is everyone for himself. Will have to pay more attention to the bird life at Londolozi! Victoria
Very cool story, Bruce! Those starlings had a purpose! Thanks for sharing.
Birds are so underrated. They are one of the animal kingdom’s most amazing creatures. Nicely done Bruce
Most interesting confrontation! Because of the nest, (that’s what I was thinking), I’m glad the starlings won. Wonderful images!
Nice storytelling Bruce with great pics!!!
An interesting blog Bruce and a chance sighting of interaction between two species of birds. I also enjoy watching the birds in my yard and catching the odd dust-up so to speak between birds. A nice set of pictures also and both species have nice colouring. Thanks for sharing with us, I enjoyed reading it.
Hi Bruce. A wonderful story set out in pictures. However – perhaps my eyes are giving up on me – but you mention the Purple Roller has a purple chest. I don’t see a purple chest at all on these ones. I see the purple tail and the purple on the wings, but not the chest. Am I missing something here? Also, have you had any rain in the last couple of weeks? We had 30 plus mms on Saturday I think it was. Just wondering how the Bush is looking now? The Wintry look or is there any green at all other that the trees which have such deep roots. Wendy M
So lovely to be able to take the time to watch bird behaviour in the bush and especially the less often seen Purple Roller. Does it chirp as loudly and raucously as it’s beautiful Lilac brothers and sisters?
Wonderfully photographed. I must admit that when I wanted to go birding on Londolozi I paid the premium for a sole use Landrover ( and had a wonderful time at the Causeway photographing Kingfishers)