From Shakespeare To Central Park – The Flight of the Starlings

A family of european singers has moved in with Ms. Jeannie!

Ms. Jeannie’s new roommates – the European starlings.

Tucked into the side porch – they chose to reside in a rotted out hole on the underside of the roof eave. Ms. Jeannie didn’t even know there was a vacancy there until she heard these vocalists warming up one morning.  It started with two of them, but soon after came three babies chirp, chirp, chirping.

All black with bright yellow beaks and iridescent feathers, Ms. Jeannie identified these singers as European starlings with her handy bird book.

European Starling

They are one of the most common birds found in the US, with over 200 million of them occupying all 50 states.

Interestingly enough, starlings were first introduced to America by Eugene Scheifflin in 1890. Eugene, a lover of all things Shakespeare, wanted to bring all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to America.  The starling is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1:

“I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion. “

Eugene released all the birds in Central Park in 1890, but only the starlings survived.  Wondrously 30 pairs of starlings turned into 200 million just a hundred years later. Simply amazing!

If you want to read more about Eugene, a great book about his life and membership with the American Acclimatization Society is detailed in Tinkering With Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America by Kim Todd.

Tinkering with Eden by Kim Todd

A fascinating documentary was also done by Penny Lane about Eugene and his flight of fancy, called The Commoners.  Here’s a clip from youtube…

Some people think that starlings are irritating because they are so vocal and can mimic many different types of birds. But Ms. Jeannie loves her new roommates. They can be destructive in the garden- pulling up newly planted seeds, but luckily Ms. Jeannie’s garden has remained untampered with so far.

The average lifespan of a european starling is 5-7 years but the oldest one on record in the US was 15 years old and in the UK, 22 years old. In general, they can lay up to 10 eggs a year.  The babies get kicked out of the nest when the mom deems it appropriate so that they can learn to fly, forage and protect themselves on the ground for up to 5 days before they fly off.

Both parents teach the babies how to survive during this time. Not all babies make it though. Since they can’t fly yet when they are kicked out of the nest they become vulnerable to the initial fall, predators like snakes, house cats, etc or they succumb to dehydration or malnurishment. It is definitely tough to be a baby bird. Knowing this information now, it seems EXTRAordinary that birds ever even make it to adulthood.

Once starlings reach maturity, they are acrobatic flyers, reaching speeds up to 48 miles an hour. They can be aggressively territorial and dive bomb other birds if they feel threatened.

Male starlings choose the nesting sites and then go in search of a mate. The male starlings are also the primary nest builders, but the females like to come in at the end of construction and look the nest over before settling in. The females will even remove certain types of nesting materials if they don’t suit!

The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote this beautiful poem called Starlings in Winter…

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Ms. Jeannie found some gorgeous starling art on Etsy. Take a look…

Starling Bird Painting by Frances Marin
Wire Bird Sculpture by wireanimals
Flying Starling Print by KSGtextileart
Starling Oil Painting from tintabernacle
Starling Greeting Card by thenothcountrygirl

Starlings are cavity nesters. If you want to attract some starlings in your yard, Twig & Timber offers several styles that starlings would love…

Modern Birdhouse by twigandtimber
Craftsmen Birdhouse by twigandtimber
The Camera Shutter Birdhouse by twigandtimber

Or if you want to start identifying the birds in your yard, these items might be helpful…

Vintage Audubon Bird Caller from VintageHoneyBunny
Vintage Book of Songbirds from Fishraven
Vintage Summit Binoculars from MysticLily
Birding Journal by QuailLanePress

If you have any starling pictures from your yard, send them in. Ms. Jeannie would love to see! Until then…happy birding!


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