Starling, Vancouver Island, BC
Starling, Vancouver Island, BC

The starling is a very common sight over most of North America. They were imported to New York in 1890 and spread across the continent from there. The starling song is quite complex, including a series of whistling notes, chatter, and a clear “wolf” whistle. Starlings belong to the family of birds that includes vocal mimics known as myna birds. These birds are adept at exploiting urban, suburban, and agricultural settings. They are one of only a few birds that tolerate areas of high human density and disturbance.

Starlings have wide-ranging food tolerances though they prefer insects. Spring flocks of starlings often descend on lawns much to the dismay of homeowners who feel they are doing damage when in fact, they are consuming insect pests and doing the homeowners a big favor.

Male and female starlings look similar. Both are glossy black with purplish and greenish iridescence on the head, back, and breast. The juvenile Starling has a grayish-brown plumage. Starlings molt their feathers in the fall.  The new feather tips are whitish, giving the bird a speckled appearance. Over the winter sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black.

Starling beaks are yellow during the spring breeding season. By fall the beak becomes brown, and it remains brown through winter. Their beaks are short and are designed to open with force, different from other birds who have stronger muscles to close down their beaks. The strong opening beak is an adaptation for probing in the soil for insects and worms, pushing rocks and soil out of the way.

Immature Starling, Vancouver Island, BC
Immature Starling, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

Starlings are monogamous; they court and mate in the early spring. Most of the spring and summer is spent by paired birds in nesting and raising young. Up to 8 eggs are laid in each clutch. Adults can lay 3 broods a year. The young fledge between two and three weeks of age.

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