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…