Use of Captive Starlings to Determine Effects of Pollutants on Passerine Reproduction

    Published: Jan 1981

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    Three reproductive trials were conducted to develop techniques for propagation of captive starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) which could determine the effects of environmental contaminants on passerine reproduction. Trials were conducted during the spring of 1979 in five adjacent 2.4 by 3 by 12-m outdoor wire pens containing four or ten pairs of starlings, a similar number of nest boxes, perches, water, commercial turkey starter, and alfalfa hay as nesting material. Nestling diets consisted of combinations of Nebraska Brand bird of prey diet, live or frozen mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) and crickets (Acheta domestica), or live earthworms (Pheretima sp.). Starlings reproduced successfully when the number of breeding pairs per pen was reduced from ten to four. The average clutch sizes for each pen (4.3 to 4.9) were similar to those reported for wild starlings. Hatching (60 to 90.4 percent) and fledging (0 to 100 percent) success varied among pens. The fledging success was greatest in the pens which received the most diverse nestling diets: Nebraska Brand diet plus frozen or live mealworms and crickets. Whether the insects were presented alive or frozen appeared to have little effect on the reproductive success. The starlings did not consume or carry earthworms to their young. The body weights of 20-day-old nestlings raised in captivity (¯X = 73.9 g) were similar to those of starlings in the wild. The use of single pairs per pen may eliminate problems in presentation of nestling diets due to asynchrony in breeding between pairs and excessive interactions among individuals, which may interfere with parental care. The starling appears to be an excellent model for examining the effects of environmental contaminants on the reproduction of songbirds in captivity.


    captive, passerine, pesticides, pollutants, reproduction, starling, Sturnus vulgaris, toxicity testing, toxicology, wildlife

    Author Information:

    Grue, CE
    Biologist and biological aid, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Md.

    Christian, CL
    Biologist and biological aid, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Md.

    Committee/Subcommittee: E35.30

    DOI: 10.1520/STP28368S

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