Darling Starling?

After a number of misguided attempts to introduce starlings to North America, perhaps 60-100 starlings were released into Central Park, in New York City, in 1890 and 1891, by an acclimatization society headed by Eugene Schieffelin. Their goal was to introduce all birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. The entire North American population, now numbering more than 200,000,000, descended from these birds. By the late 1940s (see map), starlings had been seen in nearly all of the U.S. and Canadian provinces. Their population increased from 1966-1976, but seems to have stabilized since, perhaps due to limited nesting sites. Starlings are often found where ever there is food, nest sites and water – typically around cities and towns, and in agricultural areas. The only places they do not frequent are large expanses of woods, arid chaparral and deserts.

No one ever says the Starling is their favorite bird. After all, they are noisy, they poop all over your car, they eat most of the seeds in your birdfeeders, and they devour a farmer’s crops. They will take over the nesting boxes you put out for native species and kill any babies in it, or they move cheerfully into holes in the siding of your house. In the winter they gather in huge flocks, and sometimes you have to wonder if they are just birds, or something else altogether. What should a large gathering of Starlings be called?  A flock, a horde, a blob, a swarm, a cloud? Murmuration is actually the term applied to large numbers of Starlings as they fly through the air like a swarm of insects.

Here are some things you never knew before about Starlings:

  • Both males and females can mimic human speech. (Some people keep starlings as pets). Some starlings also imitate the song of many other birds like the Eastern Wood-Pewee, Meadowlark, Northern Bobwhite and House Sparrow, along with Blue Jays, Red-Tailed Hawks and Cedar Waxwings. Vocalizations inside the nestbox during nest building can be lengthy and quite varied.
  • An estimated 1/3 to 1/2 of returning females nest in the same box or area in consecutive years. That is why it’s even more important not to let them nest in the first place.
  • A starling couple can build a nest in 1-3 days. Both sexes incubate.
  • A migrating flock can number 100,000 birds. They roost communally in flocks that may contain as many as a million birds.
  • Each year, starlings cause an estimated $800 million in damages to agricultural crops
  • About 15-33% of first broods are parasitized (via egg dumping) by other starlings.
  • Starlings have an unusual bill that springs open to grip prey or pry plants apart.
  • Starlings only molt once a year (after breeding) but the spots that show up in the winter wear off by the spring, making them look glossy black.
  • In Starlings, the length of the intestinal tract actually varies depending on the season. It is shorter in the summertime (when birds are mainly eating protein-rich) insect foods and larger in wintertime when they are mainly eating seeds, which are rich in carbohydrates.
  • Naturally yours,