These Starlings were quite amusing to watch in the feeder…
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. It took several tries, but eventually the population took off. Today, more than 200 million European Starlings range from Alaska to Mexico, and many people consider them pests.
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.
Starlings are great vocal mimics: individuals can learn the calls of up to 20 different species. Birds whose songs starlings often copy include the Eastern Wood-Pewee, Killdeer, meadowlarks, Northern Bobwhite, Wood Thrush, Red-tailed Hawk, American Robin, Northern Flicker, and many others.
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.”
Starlings are strong fliers that can get up to speeds of 48 mph.
In studies of starlings’ sense of taste, scientists have discovered that they can taste salt, sugars, citric acid, and tannins (bitter compounds that occur in many fruits, including acorns and grapes). They can tell the difference between sucrose (table sugar) and other kinds of sugars – helpful since starlings lack the ability to digest sucrose.
A female European Starling may try to lay an egg in the nest of another female. A female that tries this parasitic tactic often is one that could not get a mate early in the breeding season. The best females find mates and start laying early. The longer it takes to get started, the lower the probability of a nest’s success. Those parasitic females may be trying to enhance their own breeding efforts during the time that they cannot breed on their own.
The oldest recorded wild European Starling was 15 years 9 months old.
NWMNP Photography Club
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