About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Starlings don't migrate but their diets change

Today I have what appears to be a young Starling in my bird feeder. He is larger than the other birds and is eating but not leaving. I've never seen one in the winter before. He is dark brown with speckles. Don't they normally migrate?

photo from Wikimedia Commons
The European Starlings are year-round residents in Michigan.

In 1890 about 60 starlings were imported to the United States by a group who wanted to introduce all the birds mentioned by William Shakespeare in his plays. Shakespeare chose to talk about the starling’s ability to mimic speech in Henry IV: “The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I’ll holler ‘Mortimer!’ Nay I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion.”

The birds multiplied rapidly and now there are over 200 million starlings found coast to coast year-round.

I noticed them a lot right before the storm flying low and lining up on power lines. Most birds have a special middle-ear receptor called the Vitali organ, which can sense incredibly small changes in barometric pressure. So if the activity at feeders suddenly becomes much more intense or birds are flying low, this could indicate swiftly falling air pressure and a storm approaching.

I often get questions on starlings. In the fall when they molt, their new plumage is a glossy iridescent black with purple and greens and all their feather tips are white, giving the appearance of many stars. By spring the white feather tips have worn away, so that they are a more uniform dark bird. And the Starling in winter has a dark brown beak that changes into yellow as breeding season approaches.

In the spring starlings require large quantities of bugs or suet to meet their high protein needs. You will see them patrolling the lawn for invertebrates in the soil. Their pointed bill is adapted perfectly for probing food from the ground and catching insects. And of course once their babies appear the suet at the feeders disappears faster.

In the winter a starling’s diet switches. Their intestines lengthen, and the wall of the gizzard increases in thickness to better absorb the nutrients from more fruits, nuts, berries and seeds. Like the robin we rarely see them visit the feeders in the winter unless there is a winter storm that covers their natural resources.

You can check out the range map and read more at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/european_starling/id

To deter starlings you can switch up your bird food choices:

- Use pure beef suet with no seeds
- Switch to straight safflower seed: Start by offering safflower gradually, mixing it with the seed you currently use. Over time increase the amount of safflower until you are feeding straight safflower. The seed looks and tastes different from other bird seed, so it may take your birds some time to adjust. Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Many favorite backyard birds - including cardinals, chickadees, finches, doves, woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches- savor safflower. Blackbirds, starlings, and squirrels typically refuse to eat safflower seed.

Related Articles:
- Do birds warm their feet on telephone wires? http://bit.ly/t7k91r
- Fun Facts About European Starlings http://bit.ly/rSQtFD
- How do thousands of European Starlings fly without colliding? http://bit.ly/vwM3Ra
- Amazing moment bald eagle chases down & catches a starling http://bit.ly/tnPo6z
- Starlings stealing shiny money from machine http://bit.ly/uKaP8b

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