European starling

European starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

The European starling is a bird we should all dislike. It’s an invasive species. It’s overly aggressive with other birds, often chasing cavity-nesting birds like woodpeckers and chickadees from their nests, destroying their eggs and young. A mean customer. Nobody should do that to a chickadee and get away with it.

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European starlings were introduced to Central Park in New York City by Shakespeare lovers in the 1890s, or at least that’s how the story goes. They are now one of the most abundant birds in the country. If you see a massive number of blackish birds on your lawn, digging their bills into the dirt, they are probably starlings. It also may be that you have cinch bugs in your lawn.

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The coloring of European starlings changes with the seasons. They have an iridescent purple caste to their black feathers and are covered with white speckles in winter, which gradually wear off before spring. In winter, their long, pointed beaks are grey, turning yellow during mating season in the spring. These features are the same for male and female.

European starlings are similar to the common grackle except that the grackle has a long tail, the starling a short tail. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, their short tails together with their short pointed wings make them resemble a star in flight, hence the name “starling.” I haven’t noticed them in flight so need to watch for that. Don’t wait for a photo of a starling in flight from me—that’s beyond my photographic abilities.

The European starlings who visit my feeders are mostly interested in suet, which they can’t access easily. They aren’t able to cling to the bottom feeders like the woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches.

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So they try reverse dive-bombing. I can’t think of a better description than that.

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They stand on the ground, contemplating the suet feeder above them.

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After a certain amount of contemplation, they fly straight up and try to get to the suet through stationery flight. I hope the photos illustrate their intent.

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They are not very successful, I’m happy to say. But they certainly cause a scene and prevent the other birds from feeding, at least for a while.

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