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365 Urban Species. #040: European Starling


Photographs by cottonmanifesto
Urban Species #040: European Starling Sturnus vulgaris

What is the strangest animal species? No contest: humans. One example proving this is the existence of the Shakespeare societies of the 19th century. These groups made it their express purpose to bring to America every bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. The European starling was already, in Europe, a successful urban species, commuting between crop fields outside the city and nest holes in man-made objects and structures. It had centuries of experience of living alongside humans, house sparrows, and pigeons in Old World cities, when its mention in a tirade by Hotspur in Henry IV caused it to be brought to the New World.

The starling was brought to many places by many Shakespeare societies, but only established itself when it was released in New York City's central park. The starling's success as an American urban bird has earned it the hatred of American bird lovers. It succeeds at the expense of native birds, with the blame for the decline of eastern bluebirds, for example, laid at its feet.

It' s all a shame, of course, but the starling makes for fascinating urban nature watching nonetheless. Starlings possess an amazing range of vocalizations (tamed starlings can be taught to imitate human speech--that's the context for its inclusion in Shakespeare). A flock of hundreds of starlings is a sound that must be experienced to be believed. In flight, starlings flock together in groups that resemble schooling fish. Confronting an aerial predator they form a "starling ball," a cohesive mass of birds that must be intimidating to a single hawk.

Starlings, like many successful urban species, are omnivores and scavengers. They eat the fruit of ornamental trees and shrubs, insects, carrion, and garbage. Plenty of each of these is available in most cities.

Starlings have been introduced to many cities worldwide, becoming significant members of the urban fauna in such diverse locations as Vancouver, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Wellington New Zealand, and Sydney.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 10th, 2006 02:25 am (UTC)
I kinda like starlings.
Feb. 10th, 2006 02:32 am (UTC)
Baby starlings are pretty cool-looking with their big yellow clown lips.

Feb. 10th, 2006 03:56 am (UTC)
Hmmm. I was just about to post on my LJ a quandary I am having about starlings. I put seed out on my patio to attract birds. The only ones that show up are house sparrows and starlings. My cats and I enjoy watching these birds - regardless of their status as invasive. I wonder though if I am doing environmental harm by feeding these birds (keeping them fit) or if this is an environmental "good" by reducing the competition for scarce resources with native birds if the invasives are happy enough to feed from my patio. Also, there is the consideration of buying wild bird seed when most of it contains sunflower seeds. The sunflower industry in the United States poisons millions of red-wing black birds (and other non-target native species) each year to protect their crops.
Feb. 10th, 2006 06:31 pm (UTC)
I feed whatever comes into my yard, as the starlings are already here and feeders have helped extend the range of birds we'd otherwise not see in this range (titmouse, for example). Or cities could do what happened on The Simpsons and release those bird eating lizards, which in turn were eaten by something else they introduced, which were eaten by special gorillas which would freeze to death come winter. Solution found!
Feb. 10th, 2006 04:50 am (UTC)
Thank you for this one.
Feb. 10th, 2006 04:53 am (UTC)
The color pattern on the wing, with the teal and the purple, kind of reminds me of a mallard duck.
Feb. 10th, 2006 05:15 am (UTC)
Hey I had heard that story (purposeful introduction by Shakespeare lovers) and was convinced it was a silly rumor or that I had misheard! Apparently not!
Aug. 6th, 2006 09:05 am (UTC)
Starlings. Cane toads with wings.

Western Australia takes up a third of the country. We're fighting off Cane toads in the north and Starlings in the south. There's no trouble in the middle because it's all desert, and not much can cross that (with the notable exception of the feral cat).
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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