All European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds set loose in Central Park New York in 1890. This was done by Shakespeare enthusiasts who wanted to have all birds mentioned by Shakespeare in America. Well, they succeeded with the starlings. There are now more than 200 million of this species ranging from Alaska to Mexico.
European Starlings are medium sized stocky black birds with square shaped tails, triangular wings and yellow beaks. They also have purple and green iridescent feathers which you can see when different angles of light shine on them. Did you know that the feathers they grow in the fall have bold white tips which create the Starling’s ‘stars’ which you can see on their breast. They are also great mimics who are able to make sounds of 20 different species including the Red-Tailed Hawk.
Starlings are attracted to peanut halves and suet, and can descend in large flocks to feed. If you’re trying to keep them away from your suet feeders you can use pure suet, they prefer the flavoured varieties. During the summer months you need to be careful as pure suet will melt in the heat. A caged suet feeder is another option to deter them.
You will often see large flocks of these birds perched on tree tops, telephone lines, hydro towers, or gathered together in fields foraging for insects. Starlings can fly up to 48 miles per hour which brings me to my next point… Murmuration!
If you look to the sky and see hundreds of birds flying in amazing formations, you’re witnessing the starlings putting on their dazzling flight show called murmuring. It’s as though you’re watching schools of fish swimming in unison, only in this case, it’s birds in the sky. How do they do this you might ask? Starlings will keep tabs on and follow the leads of the seven birds closest to them and ignore the rest. As well as being beautiful to watch, this also keeps them safe from predators such as peregrine falcons. Safety in numbers works for them. They will suddenly change directions at the same time creating cloud-like shapes moving through the early evening skies. Then, suddenly they will swoop to the ground or desired landing point and huddle together for warmth and safety. Murmurations occur mostly from October through March, peaking in December and January.
Watch for these magnificent displays throughout the rest of this month and enjoy!
By Jane Paradis