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, May 30, 2017

A closer look at European Starlings

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man." ~ St. Francis of Assisi

I woke up this morning to the sound of one of the least melodious noises of spring, starling babies at the feeders. European Starlings are not loved by many birdwatchers. Their territorial aggression, gluttony at backyard bird feeders, and raucous voices make them the most talked about bird in the month of May at our Wild Birds Unlimited store.

I have handouts and speeches ready to help customers frustrated with the inundation of these rowdy birds. To learn more about that see “How to deter mobs of starlings from bird feeders”: http://bit.ly/IaZlky

However, starlings have an interesting history. Imported from England in the late 1800s, one hundred birds were release in New York City as a deliberate plan to exchange plants and animals from one part of the world to another. Scientists estimate that descendants from those original birds now number more than 200 million all across the United States. One reason for their population growth is their relationship with humans. Even though many people don’t like them, they like us. The comfortable perching power lines along the roads, our houses with cozy nesting areas in any available nook or cranny, and the manicured lawns full of yummy bugs give them an opportunity to live in comfortable surroundings.

During the breeding season starlings will eat nearly anything, but they focus on insects and other invertebrates when they’re available. Common prey include grasshoppers, beetles, flies, caterpillars, snails, earthworms, millipedes, and spiders obtained from the surface of soil and grass. In winter, starlings tend to eat a more fruits, nuts and berries. Besides their voracious consumption of harmful insects, they are also a food source for many of our native birds and animals. Because they are very abundant during most of the year, the European Starling is an important prey species as food for hawks.

And they are a fascinating birds to watch. Though fledglings make loud squawks, older birds can reproduce the sounds of other birds as well as humans and almost any sound they hear. Mated pairs are usually monogamous and are devoted parents. Babies are all brown at first and look larger than the glossy blue/black adults. I watch the parents approach fledglings cautiously to feed them like they are afraid their big baby might snap their head off.

As the summer rolls along the babies change their feathers to look like they are wearing a black and white spotted vest and then in the fall they graduate into their full snazzy, black and white spotted suit of feathers. All starlings molt their feathers in the fall. Their new feathers are black with bold white tips, giving the bird “stars”. By spring, these tips have worn away, leaving them iridescent black. It’s an unusual changing act that scientists’ term “wear molt.” To keep their feathers in tip top shape they bath frequently, often in large numbers. I’ve had several customers describing their enthusiastic washing techniques, leaving the bath empty by the end.

But their unusual diet, speech, and wardrobe doesn’t compare to the impressive fall flocks that gather in the thousands to perform graceful synchronized aerial murmuration dances. The swoop and sweep of thousands of European Starlings before they settle down for the night is one of nature's most spectacular sights, and still something of a mystery to birdwatchers.

Related Articles:
Starlings have had little impact on native cavity-nesters http:/starlings_and_cavitynesters.htm 

Most of the starling's habits are beneficial to man http:/starlingdiet.htm
Fun Facts About European Starlings http://bit.ly/rSQtFD 
Thousands of European Starlings fly without colliding http:/murmeration video.html 
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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