West Midland Bird Club

'Magpie attempting to kill Starling and resilience of Starlings'

Cover of British Birds, August 1978

This article, by a then-prominent member of the Club, first appeared in ‘British Birds’ volume 73:10 (page 478–9), in October 1980. 

Bird and place names were spelt as shown. For their current status, please see our county lists.

Magpie attempting to kill Starling and resilience of Starlings On 14th May 1978, at Chasewater, Staffordshire, I saw a Magpie Pica pica attacking a Starling Sturnus vulgaris. The latter lay on its back with the Magpie standing on top. They were beside a fence on which several other Starlings were perched, all calling loudly; for a while, these swooped at the Magpie, but they later lost interest. The Magpie pecked vigorously at the struggling Starling with hard, downward stabs, its bill slightly open on impact; it often pulled out a few feathers. The Starling had a firm grip with one foot on the Magpie's leg. This continued for at least four minutes, the assailant overbalancing at times, then both fell over a small bank, where the Magpie resumed its attack, but with frequent pauses in the vicious pecking. Suddenly, it hopped away, and the Starling, to my great surprise after such a battering, stood up, looked around and flew out across the reservoir. After a few metres, however, it hit the water, and eventually drowned. I collected the corpse and found the sides of its gape slightly damaged, but not bleeding; the whole of its thighs and part of its flanks and belly were plucked bare, but no skin was broken and there was no trace of blood and no sign of previous disability.

This surprising resilience of the Starling recalled a similar incident at Blackpill, West Glamorgan, on 18th July 1973. I saw a Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus standing on a Starling on the open beach, the Starling gripping its captor's leg. The hawk often flew up about a metre with the Starling in its feet and landed hard on top of it; after several minutes, it had plucked most of the breast, but had still not killed the Starling. Eventually it flew off, leaving the Starting, feeble but still fluttering, in shallow water. A Carrion Crow Corvus corone settled by it and struck a vicious- looking blow in its head, but the Starling reared up and the crow left. Even after a lengthy assault by the hawk and a peck on the head by the crow, the Starling was still alive, but it eventually drowned as the tide rose around it. I have also disturbed a Sparrowhawk from a partly plucked, screaming Starling which flew away strongly.

Magpies have been recorded killing and eating a Song Thrush Turdus philomelo when also mobbed by other birds (Brit. Birds 39: 309), preying on roosting Tree Sparrows Passer montanus (Brit. Birds 58: 150–15 1), killing a juvenile, weak-flying Reed Bunting Embereiza schoeniclus (Brit. Birds 60: 253–254), a Swift Apus apus (Brit. Birds 71: 363) and a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus (Brit. Birds 40: 210), in the last case battering the skull of the victim.

R. A. Hume
[postal address removed]

Reproduced by kind permission of British Birds *.

© West Midland Bird Club, 147 World's End Lane, Birmingham, England B32 1JX
Registered charity, number 213311

Ornithology in Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire & the West Midlands county, since 1929.

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