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Migration ecology of the Common Starling

Migration behaviour and annual energy budgets in a short-distance migrant

The Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a well-known breeding bird across most parts of Europe. Breeding populations across different parts of the continent show variable migration behaviours from fully resident and partially migratory populations in Western and Central Europe to obligate short-distance migrants in the north. Similarly, migration directions and distances differ for birds of different breeding origins (e.g., see The Eurasian African Bird Migration Atlas). We use multi-sensor geolocators to study migration behaviour and annual energy budgets of starling populations across Europe.

Domain Research
Unit Bird Migration
Topic Ecology, Migratory Birds
Habitat farmland, meadows and pastures, semi-open farmland, settlements
Project start 2023
Project status ongoing
Project management Martins Briedis
Project region Europe

Details

Project objectives

In this study, we aim at describing individual-level migration behaviour and performance of Starlings from different European breeding populations with respect to migration routes and timing, stopover, moulting, and wintering sites, flight characteristics, and diel behavioural patterns. We are specifically interested in measuring and comparing annual energy expenditure for individuals with different migration strategies, wintering sites, and reproductive success.

Methodology

Throughout the breeding season we monitor and follow reproductive success of Starlings in multiple nest box populations where we capture and mark adult birds as well as their nestlings. This allows us to identify individual birds in a population and follow their breeding success from one year to another. Each year we track a subsample of adult birds using state-of-the-art multi-sensor geolocators to gather detailed information on their migration behaviour. Additionally, we collect feather samples from all breeders allowing us to identify their moulting sites via stable isotope techniques.

Significance

Throughout the annual cycle migratory species need to balance energetically demanding events like breeding, moult, and migration. To avoid energy allocation conflicts, these events are often separated in time and space. Measuring energy expenditure in free-ranging birds across the annual cycle, however, can be challenging. Therefore, energetic requirements and expenditure, and their causal nexus at various annual phases remain a highly debated but hitherto little-studied area in bird migration research, particularly in free-ranging passerine migrants.

Results

First project results showed that Starlings from North European exhibit a mixed migration strategy where part of the population engage in moult migration in early summer just after the breeding while others remain near the breeding sites until late autumn. Interestingly, multi-sensor tracking revealed that Starlings predominantly migrate at night with individual flight bouts regularly exceeding 12 h and birds flying as high as 2500 m above sea level. Broad-scale phenology data revealed that Starlings are advancing their spring migration timing but not fast enough to cope with climate change.

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Bird species
Common Starling
The Common Starling is a cheerful fellow which often gathers in large numbers during the non-breeding season. Flocks of thousands of noisy Common Starlings flying to their roosts at dusk are a familiar sight in many places. Due to their gregarious way of life, the birds benefit by guiding each ot...
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Bird Migration

We research migratory birds from their breeding grounds to Africa and lay the foundations for their protection beyond national borders.

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