Monday, September 13, 2010

European Starling

Although they can make entertaining pets, European Starlings are almost nobody's favorite bird.  This species was introduced by "Shakespeare enthusiasts" to the New York area in the early 1890s (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).  The idea was to release in North America all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare.  From as few as 100 European birds, starlings now number in excess of 200 million across most of North America.  To make matters worse, starlings out-compete our native cavity nesting birds, much to the detriment of the endemic species (Cabe 1993).
Non-birders are sometimes confused by starling plumages.  The birds start out being uniformly tan.  They molt into a speckled plumage during the fall.  In the photo above, the bird on the right is a young bird that has almost molted into its first basic plumage.  Only its head retains its tan juvenile feathers.  The bird on the left has molted into fresh winter plumage--most of its feathers are white tipped.  Over the winter, these white spots will wear off, resulting in a shiny, oily-looking spring bird--like the bird below, which was photographed in South Dakota several springs ago.  Note also the yellow bill of the spring bird; the bills of juvenile and winter starlings are black.

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