Reader’s wildlife video

May 26, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today we have a video of an interspecific brawl sent by Swiss biologist Jacques Hausser and taken by his daughter in law in the town of Bassins (also Switzerland) last Friday. With permission, I put the video on YouTube so I could embed it.

Jacques’s title and notes are indented below. There are also three bonus photos:

Interspecific fighting for a nesting hole

This afternoon, Deny, my daughter-in-law, heard a great commotion, followed by a thump, and saw two birds fighting on the ground. She videotaped part of the scene, then brought me the two birds still clutching to each other. Unable to get them apart (the sharp claws of the swift were firmly hooked in the starling’s flesh) I had to bring them to a rehab center.

Why this fight? The neighbor’s house  was partly renovated this winter, and, quite typically, several nesting opportunities disappeared in the process, including probably the one of this frustrated swift coming back from Africa, who tried to expel the starling from its  nest – I found some eggs broken on the soil, too. I had planned to built swift nesting boxes, but with the Covid-19, my plans remained at the paper stage…

The cast of characters (be sure to put the sound up):

Starling: Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, and Common swift, Apus apus.
Interested onlooker and would-be actor: Domino, my cat [Felis catus].
Vocals: mostly carrion crow, Corvus corone, very interested too.

I asked Jacques if the birds would be okay, and apparently the swift was released swiftly (that’s a “Tom Swifty“, making it a double pun), but the starling, with a wound in the chest, will require more days of care, though she too will pull through (see below):

it was something not observed every day. The video was taken by my daughter-in-law Denielle Hausser. According to the staff in the rehab, the starling will be OK after some more days of care.
More information from Jacques:
Looking at the picture below from Professor David Norman of the Merseyside ringing group (reproduced with permission), you can understand the suffering of the starling! Although “Apus” means footless, swift have rather special “pamprodactyl” feet, with the four fingers usually kept more or less parallel in the front direction – to hang on vertical walls – but they can oppose fingers 1-2 to fingers 3-4 to grasp something – including perhaps each other in their aerial mating. Remember that swifts can stay in the air up to 9 months, loving, hunting, sleeping, and drinking on the wing. They land only for breeding, or when they are caught in a bad or cold weather.

Look at those swift talons!
I have a picture of the male (?) starling from the same pair.
The swifts are hard to photograph, but I have a very bad picture I like nevertheless.


17 thoughts on “Reader’s wildlife video

  1. “ … I have a very bad picture I like nevertheless.“

    I came to comment specifically because of the last photo- (only saw the photographer’s comment afterward). that is a cool photo! Mood!

  2. That bird around the bird’s leg…

    I understand that, the greater the ring weight, the lesser the wing rate…


  3. Starlings are such shits here in the US, only second to house sparrows. They take over blue bird and kestrel boxes; evicting and killing the babies. We have swifts every year in our chimney and marvel at their aerial displays. I noticed that the swift had a band and am curious if you noted the number. Would be very interested to know the banding location.

    1. As indicated in the post, the picture of the swift talons was made by prof. Norman, chair of the Merseyside ringing group. I guess he ringed this swift himself, somewhere around Liverpool in England.
      I would not call starling or house sparrows or town pigeons shits – they are not responsible for the damage they cause. They were introduced in the US on purpose by sentimental ex-europeans.

  4. As a biologist I always love to hear about these interactions. Following the comment above, usually it is starlings that evict other birds. Are you certain the nest was occupied by starlings and not swifts. If so, the broken eggs would have been pale blue (starling) rather than pure white (swift)?

    Regardless lovely story and fantastic video!

    1. I’m sure it was a staring’s nest – it’s a nest they occupy each year under a ridge tile, and the male was singing in the closest tree until the fatidic day – no more since (by the way, as a second though, I think the photographied starling is the female: no long feathers on the throat, no grey area at the base of the bill, the greyish color of the iris… thus the fighting one was the male.

    2. Swifts are one of the last summer migrants to arrive back in Europe from their African wintering grounds and so many other species are well into their breeding cycle by the time they return to their nest sites. Starlings are resident year round in Europe so get first chance to install themselves in the crevices the swifts are looking for.

      Loss of potential nesting sites as a result of maintenance of existing buildings and new building methods that don’t provide openings for swifts is considered to be one reason behind a decline in the numbers of swifts (they are doubtless also affected by declines in aerial insect abundance) and there is increasing interest in putting up artificial swift nest boxes just as Jacques indicated he intended to do before covid 19 intervened.

  5. This is very interesting.

    Here in North America starlings are introduced and have a reputation of aggressive behaviour towards other birds, often outcompeting native species for precious nesting cavities. I’ve never thought of swifts as aggressive birds and am frankly glad to hear they can sometimes hold their own with starlings.

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