28 April, 2010

European Starlings. Thanks, Cecil John Rhodes

You asked me doubtfully - do you WANT starlings?

We have had 3 or 4 pairs together, nesting in our roof. Corrugated metal with bird-proofing. The bird-proofing came in a long strip to fit the profile at the open edge of the roof. Way back when, I see one of the labourers with a pair of scissors. Carefully cutting that strip into single-slice-of-bread-pieces. What is he DOING?! Ah well, sheepish look, we forgot to put it on, and now the roof sheets are screwed down. As the years pass, winter wind and delighted birds are ripping those bits out, one by one.

February figs

I am mystified that those eggs don’t cook. We see the parent standing on the breezy edge of the gutter, panting from the heat. Gratefully heading for the pond when relieved by the next shift. But those babies do hatch.

Put your prejudices to one side and look at these birds as if you had never seen them before. The male has a drag queen shimmer on his shoulders, and OTT ermine spots on his jacket and trousers. (Anyone else remember dressing up in a collar of cottonwool with black spots applied by a felt-tip pen?)

From Joy Frandsen’s
Birds of the South Western Cape 1982

Introduced to Cape Town by Cecil Rhodes in 1899. Has spread east to East London, north to the Namibian border, and to King William’s Town.
Raid fruit trees. Thought to drive indigenous birds away. Huge flocks form in winter, very often with Cape Weavers. Eat insects and soft fruit. Unpopular when nesting in the eaves as they bring ‘lice’.

Cecil Rhodes. Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe? Rhodes scholarship? We also have him to thank for grey squirrels. And the Himalayan mountain tahr, which has in recent years been culled, amid great protest, from Table Mountain. We would like the indigenous klipspringer. The tahr destroy valuable fynbos, while the restored klipspringer will be a balanced part of the ecosystem.

The Himalayan mountain tahr is a large animal, seldom seen, except by delighted hikers off the beaten track. We once drove over the Swartberg Pass, heading for Die Hel. Imagine a very steep road winding along the rocky crest of a dizzying precipice (I don’t like heights). Ahead silhouetted against the sky is a klipspringer. And as we approach. He is gone. Disappeared into thin air.

Landing strip April

From Paul Rose
The wildlife of South Africa 1979

The klipspringer male stands 61cm at the shoulder. The klipspringer is the only antelope in this country which is capable of agilely bounding from one precipitous rock face to another , often balancing on incredibly small surfaces while doing so . Evolution has enabled this robust little creature to walk on the front edges of its hoofs, and this adaptation gives the klipspringer mobility in seemingly inaccessible places.

In our last garden, we had red-winged starlings. Common residents of the mountain fynbos. Friendly companions to the klipspringers (= rock jumpers).

Photos by Jurg, words by Diana of Elephant's Eye


  1. We have the European Starlings here now too...though we can't blame Rhodes for them. Not sure who brought them here, but they are aggressive, and generally frowned upon. However, I do agree, they are quite pretty birds, and were native where I grew up. I used to enjoy watching them, but now I'm concerned they're displacing the native birds here.

  2. Your starlings are quite different from the ones we have here. Ours are jet black with a blue sheen in the sun. It really is amazing how easily a non native species of animal, bird, plant or insect and disrupt the balance and displace others.

  3. We have them here too - and again they are displacing native birdlife, so it is a bit tricky to feel kindly toward them, although it is not their fault that they are here! I do admire their shimmery coat.

  4. I guess the metal roof keeps those eggs plenty warm. and still the parent has to sit on them? I haven't seen these birds, but i know they have been sighted in my state. I love our native birds and would hate for them to be displaced!


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Photographs are from Diana Studer or Jurg Studer.
My Canon PowerShot A490

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