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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.


Feb. 10th, 2006 02:25 am (UTC)
I kinda like starlings.


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