The Abingdon White Starling

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2008
This story started for me on 8th October 2008. I was working at my desk and glanced out of the window at a line of young Starlings on the ridge of the house opposite. One bird stood out as very different - its feathers were all pure white yet, in every other respect, it was clearly an integral member of the group. It seemed quite able to hold its own amongst its peers, although I did notice on more than one occasion that, when the flock took off, it tended to follow at the rear. It was fortunate that I had a camera to hand on this first occasion, for the bird soon disappeared, leaving me thinking that this had been a remarkable 'one-off' experience.

WhiteStarling2008


2009-2010
A year passed and I saw nothing more of the bird until, suddenly, on 9th September 2009, something unusual caught my eye and I looked out of my window towards the garden bird feeders to see, once again, a pure white Starling! Was it the same bird? From what I had read, I knew that, although white-feathered Blackbirds, for example, are encountered quite frequently, a white Starling is most unusual. The balance of probability, therefore, seemed to be that this was, indeed, the same bird.

This time, it stayed in the area and I saw it on several separate occasions, both on the garden feeders and on the roofs of surrounding houses. Although I didn't have any sightings over the Christmas period, it was back at the garden feeders in February 2010 and stayed, as a regular visitor, into the breeding season. During this period, I was able to take several close-up photos, which showed a distinct pink tinge to the base of the bill. Conveniently, female Starlings have pink on the bill whereas males, very appropriately (!), have blue.

One point about this bird is that, although the feathers are all white, the visible body parts: eyes, bill, legs, are normally coloured. This is not an albino but is correctly described as 'leucistic'. I am surprised by how few other reports have been submitted for such a striking and beautiful bird. Perhaps many of those people, who must have seen her, have dismissed her as an escaped cage-bird.

After May 2010, I didn't see her again until she re-appeared on 8th December 2010 and, from then on, she was a regular visitor to my garden feeders, throughout the Spring of 2011. I noticed how she had become much more assertive in holding her own, during those feeding frenzies when many Starlings swooped into the garden together. Her visits were individually quite short - rather like quick 'smash and grab' raids. Perhaps, in some way, she was aware of her conspicuous appearance and so was careful not to stay in one place for too long. Whatever the reason, she was clearly a survivor and no longer took up the rear position in the flock but was more often leading the way.

2011
2011 marked a major milestone in her life since, towards the end of May, she appeared at my feeders with two offspring, both normally coloured. She was a very attentive mother and her brood seemed to receive much more frequent visits than the many other juveniles in my garden were getting from their parents. Her plumage began to show the effects of her exertions, as her head and the area around her bill became stained.

WhiteStarling2011

After her family became independent, she disappeared again but then, on 13th August 2011, there was a recorded sighting of a white Starling on the football pitch at Upper Arncott, to the North of Oxford. I learned that the bird had been around that area for a couple of weeks, flying with a flock of about 50 normal starlings. One month later, on 15th September, a Starling flock containing one white bird flew over my Abingdon garden and, since it was no longer present at Arncott, it seems likely that, after breeding, this flock had ranged across the county, exploring different feeding areas.

2012
I only had a few sightings over the Winter, mainly as a member of a mobile flock, but she was back at my garden feeders in May 2012, with a new brood of two offspring. Again, she was a seemingly tireless mother, often making trips to neighbouring gardens to bring food to her impatiently waiting youngsters. As in the previous year, it was noticeable that her pristine plumage became quite bedraggled as a result of her continuous effort. She did, however pose for my favourite photo of her.

WhiteStarling2012

She returned again to my garden on 4th May 2013. This time, she even received some assistance from her partner, whom I photographed with one of their young, between her own feeding sessions. The blue base to his bill can be seen in his photo, below:

MaleStarling WhiteStarlingFamily2013

2014
Once again,she returned to my garden and I took my first photo of her on 12th February 2014. Her visits during the following months were sporadic but, in May, she was clearly collecting food for a family from my garden feeders. The next major event in this story was when I looked out of my window on 27th May 2014 and was astonished to see not one but two white Starlings in my garden!

WhiteStarlings2014

After watching her feeding this latest offspring, which then sat in a tree patiently wating for her return, I saw her come back with a second white juvenile following.Now there were three white Starlings feeding together in my garden.

3 White Starlings 2 White Starlings

This really marks the end of my story of the Abingdon white Starling. As the new arrivals grow to maturity, it will be much more difficult to decide which bird(s) are visiting my garden. Perhaps, if these new birds also breed successfully, there will be even more white Starlings in the future - only time will tell.


all Text and Photos İMike Flemming 2014
this is an expanded version of an article which first appeared in the December 2013 Bulletin of the Oxford Ornithological Society
http://www.oos.org.uk/

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