Birds come in all shapes and sizes, colours and contrasts, and varying personalities. Some of their names have a ring of glamour and some have a certain vibrancy. The rosy starling (also called rosy pastor) definitely falls in the latter category. Not just the name, it also has the looks to match, with its rose pink body, orange bill and legs, and glossy black head, wings and tail. To top it all, it is a strong migrant traversing thousands of kilometres to reach India by winter.
The first time I saw rosy starlings it was late summer with the birds moving from branch to branch camouflaged by the lush young green leaves and branches of a huge old peepal tree. All I could hear were continuous noisy squeaks and “ki-ki-ki” sounds for a long time and I caught only a glimpse of the bird.
A chance to watch them closely came much later. The birds had made themselves at home atop a giant silk cotton tree and upon hearing their calls I stopped and spent an hour watching them. The tree appeared stark with almost all leaves shed, leaving only the red flowers.
This being the annual blooming time, the large red flowers (12cm in length) were visible all along the branches of the tree. The tree attracts many birds such as myna, sun birds, chestnut starling and the rosy starling. The latter kept moving from branch to branch. At times they turned their heads and bodies upside down to feed on the nectar, while sometimes they put their heads completely inside the red flowers to sample it. Some of the birds appeared to keep vigil and made alert calls. Sometimes a small flock of them would fly together for a few metres and be back in a minute. The red flowers kept falling down, creating a natural carpet around the tree. The predatory Shikra was given a wide berth.
Name: Rosy starling, Pastor roseus
Family: Sturnidae (starling family)
Size: About 20cm, comparable with the common myna
Eggs: 3-6 eggs
Food: Grasshopper, locust, fruits, berries, grains
Habitat: Open country
Distribution: Eastern Europe, India, Srilanka
IUCN status: Least concerned
Sometimes at dusk a fine spectacle would present itself in the sky. A flock of rosy starlings would fly calling out loudly, performing a series of acrobatic moves. They would fly in the sky for a long time and occasionally all of them would perch on a tree with the same action being repeated a couple of times.
My last sighting of these gregarious visitors was more recent. It was a nice sunny morning at the Panambur beach in Mangaluru. When we were tired out playing catch with the waves my gaze fell upon a leafless tree. Suddenly, flocks of birds alighted on it, noisily chattering away. Upon closer inspection I realised they were rosy starlings. There were at least 50 of them, if not more.
During winter rosy starlings arrive from Europe in south India and Sri Lanka in batches outnumbering the local starling bird population. During paddy harvest one can see them frequenting the paddy fields, busy picking up grains. South India hosts a good number of fruit trees like the banyan and peepal, and the fig is one of the bird’s favourites.
Male and female rosy starlings are almost alike except the females are dull in colour and the males have a prominent crest. Though they stay for about six months in India they do not breed here. They breed in Europe in June and July, nesting along the rock crevices.