Out of the over 100 living species of starling only three breed in Europe. The most distinctive, the pink-and-black Rosy Starling Pastor roseus is found in eastern Europe. The Common Starling is native to Europe and Asia as far as Nepal and north to Siberia, but has been widely introduced to North America and Australia, and is also now breeding in South Africa and Argentina. The third species is the subject of this post, the Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor.
Although very similar to Common Starlings, especially in winter plumage, Spotless Starlings are actually quite distinctive. Especially in the breeding season they are an oily black and have noticeably longer throat feathers, giving a distinctive “beard”. The legs are pink, compared to the more reddish colour of Common Starling. The song is also noticeably more musical than the song of a Common Starling They are resident in the Iberian peninsula and North Africa, and are also found in Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily. It has recently begun to spread along the south coast of France as well.
Spotless starlings are omnivorous, feeding on both invertebrates and plant material. They take a lot of insects by probing in the ground, and open ground with a rich soil invertebrate population makes prime breeding habitat. As a result of these preferences farmland, especially grazing land, is ideal for them, and in fact their population in Spain and Portugal has increased in recent years.
Spotless starlings are hole nesters, using tree holes, rock crevices, and frequently human habitations such as the roofs of farm buildings and walls. The nest is composed of grasses and often includes green leaves and yellow flowers. Many birds add green plant material to their nests throughout the breeding period. The reason is not entirely clear but it is possible that the plants have insecticidal properties that combat fly larvae and feather lice. It has also been demonstrated that males that provide more green plants to the nest increase their attractiveness to females.
Spotless Starlings also engage in intraspecific nest parasitism. This occurs when females lay their eggs in a nest of another individual of the same species. From studies it appears that the nest parasites are either young females without a nest site or females whose own nest has been lost or disturbed. The usual clutch is 3-5 eggs and the young are raised on insects. There is usually two broods each year.
Given their large range and increasing population it not surprising that Spotless Starlings are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. Any threats might come from climate change or changes in agricultural practise, but this seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.
(Images from Wikipedia)