In bygone days it was not thought to be a problem to release species of birds or animals from other parts of the world to North America and vice versa. In fact, the idea was supported and encouraged in the 19th century. Now, of course, we know that the impacts of such policies have a devastating effect on our ecosystem.
According to the Cornell Ornithological Lab, a group of individuals who wanted the U.S. to have all the birds ever mentioned by Shakespeare were responsible for the introduction of the European starling. Thus, in 1890, 60 European starlings were released in Central Park, New York City, followed by the release of another 40 in 1891. These birds were highly successful. Today there are more than two million European starlings from Mexico to Alaska.
European starlings are in the same category as the house sparrow and the rock pigeon. They are introduced, and like the house sparrow, compete with our native birds for nesting spots. They will nest almost anywhere, but it is our cavity nesters that suffer from competition with the European starling.
Have you ever been walking along the road or on the sidewalk and heard a sound like no other or thought you heard a red-tailed hawk, or maybe you were sitting on your back deck just enjoying the sounds of nature but couldn’t find the bird that was “singing.” Starlings are excellent mimics, so there is always a chance that when you hear something that sounds like a bird you know, it may be a starling who is out to fool you! Species often included in the European starling’s repertoire are the killdeer, American robin, western meadowlark, the northern flicker and others.
I am sure you have noticed large flocks of black birds a little smaller than a robin wheeling noisily across the sky or roosting at the top a tree. Perhaps you have seen a hurried group of small dark birds zigging and zagging across a lawn stopping to stab the earth every few steps with their slender yellow bills. These birds are probably European starlings. They are chunky in appearance and I think they look as if they are waddling when they walk on the ground. In breeding plumage, they are an iridescent purplish-green with a long, slender yellow bill. The non-breeders are dark, but have white spots on their backs and underparts.
The next time you see a large flock of noisy birds in the air check out their shapes. Starlings got their name from their flight appearance. Their short, pointed wings “make them look rather like small four-pointed stars.” Hence, how they got their name, according to Cornell Ornithological Lab.
The European starling is thought to be our most notorious, successful and invasive feathered species. Perhaps you think of them as pests, especially when they empty your feeders almost right after you have filled them! Many other people also think of European starlings as pests, so you are not alone if you think so, too. However, we can think of them on a more positive note. Their behavior and song are entertaining and in fact they are also somewhat attractive, in their own way!
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.