Drowning is an apparent and unexpected recurrent cause of mass mortality of Common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris

Becki Lawson , J. Paul Duff, Katie Beckmann, Julian Chantry, Kirsi M. Peck , Richard M. Irvine , Robert A Robinson, Andrew A. Cunningham

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Drowning is infrequently reported as a cause of death of wild birds and such incidents typically involve individual, rather than multiple, birds. Over a 21-year period (1993 to 2013 inclusive), we investigated 12 incidents of mortality of multiple (2−80+) Common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)
in Great Britain that appeared to be due to drowning. More than ten birds were affected in ten of these reported incidents. These incidents always occurred during the spring and early summer months and usually involved juvenile birds. In all cases, circumstantial evidence and post-mortem examinations indicated drowning to be the most likely cause of death with no underlying disease
found. A behavioural explanation seems likely, possibly related to the gregarious nature of this species combined with juvenile inexperience in identifying water hazards. A review of data from the ringed bird recovery scheme across Great Britain (1909–2013 inclusive) of both starlings and Common blackbirds (Turdus merula), also a common garden visitor, identified additional suspected drowning incidents, which were significantly more common in the former species, supporting a species predisposition to drowning. For each species there was a marked seasonal peak from April to August. Drowning should be included as a differential diagnosis when investigating incidents of multiple starling mortality, especially of juveniles.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2015


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