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starling.jpg (16229 bytes)

STARLINGS

 

Starling Facts

    Starlings were introduced into North America from England in 1890 by Eugene Schieffelin. He and his friends were determined to introduce into the US all of the animals mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.  While some of their attempts failed, not so with the starling.   The original 100 birds who were introduced are responsible for the hundreds of millions who exist in the US today.

     Starlings are widespread throughout all of North America and are common in cities.

      Starling song is quite complex, including a series of whistling notes, chatter and a clear “wolf” whistle.

      Starlings belong to the family of birds which includes vocal mimics known as myna birds.

      Starlings are adept at exploiting urban, suburban and agricultural settings.  They are one of only a few birds that tolerate areas of high humane density and disturbance.

      Starlings have wide-ranging food tolerances though they prefer insects.  Spring flocks of starlings often descend on lawns much to the dismay of homeowners who feel they are doing damage when in fact, they are consuming insect pests and doing the homeowners a big favor.

       It is common to see starlings around dumps and landfills and many specialize in picking through open dumpsters and trash bags.

       Starlings tend to flock together when feeding.  When traveling, the flock looks like it rolls; the birds at the back of the flock go over and replace the birds at the front.  If a hawk appears, the flock tightens for protection.

       Male and female starlings look similar.  Both are glossy black with purplish and greenish iridescence on the head, back and breast.  Juveniles have grayish brown plumage.  Starlings molt their feathers in the fall.  The new feather tips are whitish, giving the bird a speckled appearance.   Over the winter sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black.

       Starling beaks are yellow during the spring breeding season.  By fall the beak becomes brown, and it remains brown through winter.  Their beaks are short, and are designed to open with force, different from other birds who have stronger muscles to close down their beaks.  The strong opening beak is an adaptation for probing in the soil for insects and worms, pushing rocks and soil out of the way.

       Starlings are monogamous; they court and mate in the early spring.  Most of the spring and summer is spent by paired birds in nesting and raising young.  Anywhere from three to eight eggs are laid in each clutch.  Adults can nest three times a year.  The young fledge between two and three weeks of age.

       Starlings are cavity nesters and will exploit any hole into a suitably sized interior cavity.  Their favorite sites include dryer, range and bathroom vents.

       A biologist reports the following story about starlings:

 I once was witness to a young boy shooting a female starling.   I have never forgotten what happened next.   A larger male starling, obviously her mate, landed next to the dead female and sounded a distress call, flapping its wings in challenge.  It put itself at risk with its courage.  The boy didn’t shoot the bird, but slowly approached.  The male starling stood his ground, trying to protect his mate.  Finally, when the boy was just a few feet away, the grieving bird flew off.  Here was a bird that is considered a common pest, that is poisoned by the thousands, clearly showing signs of loyalty and courage.

Problems

     Large flocks of starlings have been known to join with grackles and blackbirds at certain times of the year and can cause serious problems to agriculture.

     The biggest issue with starlings in urban and suburban areas has to do with their nesting habits.  Starling nests built into any house cavity can accumulate material that is unsightly and could represent a fire hazard.  Starlings do not remove material from old nests but keep adding year after year to what is there.

     Starlings cause complaints by getting into trash, competing with “desirable” birds at feeders and getting stuck in chimneys and metal flues.

Solutions

     Tolerance should be practiced.  Problems caused by starlings are usually only temporary.  Permanent solutions can be carried out once the timing is right.  One example of when starlings should be tolerated comes in the spring when visiting flocks work over lawns probing for grubs and cleaning up any insects found among the new growth.  This is undoubtedly a beneficial service to the homeowner.  Nesting starlings should be tolerated until the young ones have fledged.  The nest site can then be cleaned and sealed to prevent reuse. 

     Dryer and range vents can be screened with hardware cloth.

      Both visual and auditory scare devices can also be effective.  Pie tins or mylar party balloons hung out in the garden can be very effective.  There are also a number ofr commercial products available.  Scare tape is a strong, laminated metal and plastic material originally designed for use in the space program.  It is highly reflective and creates a dazzling pattern of light when in motion.  There are various types available including one that resonates in the wind and combines visual and auditory stimuli.  Cut into strips of varying lengths and widths, this tape can be suspended from posts, wires, gutters on houses or anywhere else the homeowner wishes to repel the birds.  Scare balloons rely on what is called a “supernormal” stimulus – in this case a highly enhanced “eye” that occupies the center of the balloon.  Yellow, black and white styles are made though yellow seems to be the most effective.  Suspended from a support or sometimes even filled with helium, these balloons move in the slightest wind and are effective.   Both Scare Tape and Scare Balloons are available from Bird-X, Inc. 300 North Elizabeth Street, Chicago, IL 60607, 800-662-5021, Fax: 312-226-2480. Their products are safe for animals and for the environment.

      For more information on starlings, visit click here

 

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