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Day 26: Starlings and Bengal Cats

Posted: Monday 26th June 2017 by 30DaysWild2017

Video camera views inside a Starling's nest box and a Bengal CatVideo camera views inside a Starling's nest box and a Bengal Cat

Starlings have fledged their second broods, and moulting is underway for many birds, but there is a new threat to them all, Bengal Cats.

Breeding for the Starlings is almost over. As reported in the Day 3 Blog the three starling nest boxes that I monitor with video cameras all contained second clutches. Second clutches are not typical for Common Starlings so as far as breeding is concerned this will be recorded as a “good” year. The first time around the three boxes had fledged 14 young from 15 eggs.

The repeat clutches were of 2, 4, and 5 eggs. The success of these second clutches has been lower. The clutch of 4 failed completely after hatching, and the clutch of 5 fledged only 3. However, the clutch of two fledged two, so a 45% success rate. That is a good outcome.

June has not been particularly dry overall. So far we have received 80% of the average rainfall (according to my records), however, that rain did fall only in the first half of the month. In the second half there has been very hot weather resulting in very rapid drying of ground surfaces. Starlings depend very much upon finding invertebrates in the ground for feeding their young on, so getting at these foods must have become increasingly difficult.

These were not the only starlings' nest around to have second broods and I recorded nest provisioning in 4 other boxes. While the adults have been producing more young, the fledglings of the first broods have been much in evidence. They have formed flocks of more than 40 birds on occasions and they are coming to the feeders in noisy groups. They are very keen on fat balls and this might reflect the difficulty of finding buried invertebrate prey.

Common Starling Photo Tim Felce (Airwolfhound)Many birds have started to moult but so far I have not noticed any starlings that are in moult. However, some of the adults show a change in bill colour, already they have gone black indicating that hormonal changes associated with moult are underway. Soon the adults will start the process of full body moult and the juveniles will also moult from their first grey-brown feathers to their first set of the brilliant iridescent adult feathers.

Many of the birds that are in moult looking very scruffy as worn feathers are shed and new ones grow through. Birds in moult in my garden include great tits, blue tits, robins, and blackbirds. The blue tits are looking far from the perfection of the bird in the photograph of yesterday’s blog. A couple of blackbirds look particularly scruffy, they have been working very hard raising further broods and are starting to look as though they are paying the price for that effort. A robin without a tail has been coming to the fat balls in the last couple of days.

All of the garden birds will soon be going through the moulting process. Moulting is an essential part of the annual cycle for individual survival and in most of our common birds it takes place in the few weeks directly after breeding. Feathers are replaced in succession relatively slowly, but when the main flight feathers are replaced flight abilities are reduced and this is one of the reasons why bird activity always decreases in July and August. The birds keep a low profile and out of the sight as they become more vulnerable to predators.

A couple of days ago I learnt about Bengal Cats. They were new to me but have apparently been around for over a century. They have been more of a breeder’s curiosity, but they have recently become fashionable. One has arrived in a nearby village and is apparently devastating the bird life and attacking other cats. It is really behaving like a wildcat.

Bengal cats are a hybrid between the domestic cat and another species of cat,Bengal Cat Photo Chris Rue the Asian Leopard Cat. The hybrids are very aggressive and if allowed to wander they patrol large areas which they hunt systematically and efficiently. The problem with them is that to become suitable as house pets the first hybrids have to be back crossed with domestic cats for four generations. By that time they are said to still retain the structure and coat markings of the Asian Leopard Cat but they have become as tame as the average moggy.

As the fashion and value of these cats has grown it is feared that Bengal Cats are being sold without having the required number of back crosses in their history. What was an attractively marked and playful kitten matures into a truly wild animal which owners simply cannot control with the result that they eventually end up feral. If anyone can shed more light on Bengal cats and their effects on wildlife I would be pleased to hear from them.

My worry is that these Bengal cats will not only play havoc with the local bird population but will also devastate other mammal species, including the hedgehogs. Last night they were again busy circling each other and walking nose-to-nose (see yesterday’s blog).

Graham Martin, Chair of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, opinions are my own not those of the Trust., @GrahamMartin99


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