Leonard and I have a love/hate relationship with the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris).
Native to the Old World, the European or common starling was introduced to Central Park (New York City) in 1890-91. Apparently some Shakespeare enthusiasts wanted to have all the birds that the Bard mentioned living in America. Subsequently, the European starling became established and started to spread. By 1960 it reached the Pacific Ocean and was widespread and abundant throughout most of North America.
Starlings adapt well to human environments and are common in towns, suburbs and the countryside – anywhere there are open grassy areas for foraging, a water supply and trees or buildings with cavities for nesting.
Noisy and gregarious, starlings are extremely aggressive and will chase off other species, eventually becoming the dominant bird in a habitat. Therein lies the “hate” part of our association. Over time, slowly and subtly, starlings have taken over all the trees in the yard. The numbers of orioles, hummingbirds, finches, warblers and other summer residents nesting in our willows and hybrid poplars have noticeably declined while the starling population grows each year. Finally this spring Leonard filled as many cavities in the trees as possible. Perhaps without nesting sites the starlings will find our yard less attractive. We will have to see if this strategy reduces the starling population and increases more desirable residents.
The “love” part? Starlings belong to the same family as mynas and like mynas have complex vocalizations and can mimic other species. It is interesting how many other birds, animals and non-animate sounds starlings can imitate. Often Leonard and I will “hear” a red-tailed hawk, killdeer, willet, dove or other bird only to realize that a starling is making the call. We have three outdoor cats, each of which makes a slightly different mewing sound. The starlings mimic each cat’s call so perfectly that Leonard can distinguish which of our cats the starlings are copying. The starling vocalizations are fascinating and we enjoy listening to them.
This starling was photographed on a willow next to our house near Lookout CA. More on starlings in future posts.