Fun facts about starlings

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Fact #1: This is the first starling we have ever seen in our immediate backyard. It visited the feeders, preferring the homemade suet dough in the dome feeder.

Pretty feathers! Reminds me of a speckled hen.

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More facts, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

Starlings turn from spotted and white to glossy and dark each year without shedding their feathers. The new feathers they grow in fall have bold white tips – that’s what gives them their spots. By spring, these tips have worn away, and the rest of the feather is dark and iridescent brown. It’s an unusual changing act that scientists term “wear molt.”

This one is fluffed up to keep more warmth near its body (making it look even more like a fat little hen). It is 10 degrees now and was -6 this morning.

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All the European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds set loose in New York’s Central Park in the early 1890s. The birds were intentionally released by a group who wanted America to have all the birds that Shakespeare ever mentioned.

Now there are 200 million all across North America!

Scientific American: Shakespeare to blame for introduction of European starlings to North America

Clearly, the Bard abided birds—his works include references to more than 600 avian species. A Bronx resident, drug manufacturer Eugene Schieffelin (a street bearing his name isn’t far from my house) seems to be particularly responsible for the starlings’ arrival here. Well, his chickens have come home to roost.

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Because of their recent arrival in North America, all of our starlings are closely related. Genetically, individuals from Virginia are nearly indistinguishable from starlings sampled in California, 3,000 miles away. Such little genetic variation often spells trouble for rare species, but seems to offer no ill effects to starlings so far.

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Starlings forage in lawns, fields, and other open areas with short vegetation. They wander over the ground, often quite rapidly, poking their closed bill into the ground and using their strong jaw muscles to force open the bill and search for soil insects and other invertebrates. They often forage with other species, including grackles, cowbirds, blackbirds, House Sparrows, Rock Pigeons, American Robins, and American Crows. Watching starlings in flocks can reveal several ways that these gregarious birds communicate with their neighbors. Starlings signal agitation by flicking their wings, or by staring at their opponents while standing erect, fluffing their feathers, and raising the feathers of the head. Submissive birds crouch and move away with their feathers sleeked. Confrontations can escalate into birds charging at each other and stabbing with their long bills. Birds on wires may push others away by sidling along the perch until they’ve run out of room.

This bird seemed alone – no other starlings. Plenty of other birds around, though: chickadees, titmice, bluebirds, blue jays, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, nuthatches, mourning doves, cardinals, tree sparrows, juncos, goldfinches.

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