European Starling

Hey guys, welcome back! Today, the most infamous and perhaps successful invasive species in North America, well bird species at least; the European Starling. First, let’s get the “how they got here” story out of the way for those of you that don’t know. Back in the latter half of the 1800s, some Shakespeare enthusiasts in the U.S. decided that what this country needed was all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works, because that was apparently a thing. Obviously, they had no clue whatsoever the kind of damage an introduced species could do to an ecosystem. In fact, it wasn’t fully known by many at the time. So, they brought a couple crates of European Starlings over, went to Central Park, and released them. It actually took a couple tries before they were able to establish themselves. Think about that for a second. They wanted birds mentioned by a writer that had been dead for hundreds of years in their country, brought them over and released them, the birds couldn’t establish themselves, meaning they all died, so they decided rather than say “well, it was a nice try” they brought more over. And when it still didn’t work out, they brought more over. Now, the European Starling is one of (if not the most) populous birds in North America. They’re aggressive behavior, and ability to produce 2-3 clutches every year, have resulted in their outcompeting native birds like the Eastern Bluebird.

European Starling
European Starling in autumn plumage, Central Park, NY

In terms of identification, it’s pretty easy. European Starlings look like blackbirds, but with very short tails, and light colored spots. In summer they’re very glossy and iridescent, and in winter they have much more brown. Interesting thing is, despite changing plumages, they don’t molt entirely new feathers. (Yes they do molt, but their new feathers aren’t different looking than the old ones) Instead when they grow new feathers in fall, they have brown edges, by spring and summer, the brown edges simply wear away. Pretty cool. Another good ID tool is the starling has a yellow bill (in summer), other blackbirds have a black or grey bill.

European Starling, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

Working in Central Park, ground zero for the spread of European Starlings, I’ve seen hundreds, maybe even thousands in my time. Even here in St. Louis, it’s not uncommon to see a flock, or constellation (yes the collective noun for starlings is constellation) of a hundred or more birds! Yes, they’re invasive, and yes they can be a nuisance, and yes they’re loud and harsh, but it’s hard to argue how strikingly beautiful they can be. Come back next time for a real blackbird, the Red-winged Blackbird, and I’ll share a little rhyme my dad always used to say when he’d see one. See you then!

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