The Daily Bucket is a place where we get together and share the things we've noticed in the natural world around us. It might be that robins are building a nest in the old apple tree out back or that the crickets outside your window are keeping you awake at night or that coyote pups up on the ridge are beginning to sing with their parents every evening.I know that starlings aren't everybody's favorite bird. I know that they're messy and noisy in large numbers, and I know they aren't even native here, but in spite of all that, I think they're marvelous. So believing that they've been given an unfairly bad rap, and very little attention, and even less respect from many bird lovers, I thought I'd put them in the lime light at least for one day, and give them their own bucket.
Doesn't matter what it is, nothing noted is too big or too small so please join in and tell us what is happening in your neck of the woods. Everyone is welcome.
I like them for many different reasons. For one thing they're very intelligent birds, which I'm sure has a great deal to do with their rapid and complete success here in the USA since they were introduced in 1890. Those 60 original birds have now multiplied into many millions.
I once raised one that I had found on the ground at the feed mill I worked at. It was very young, with only a bit of fuzzy down covering it's otherwise naked body, far too helpless and vulnerable to survive on it's own. I couldn't return it to it's nest, which was built up inside a small inaccessible nook between two grain bins. So I took it home and raised it, first on insects and other "bugs", mostly earthworms, but whatever else I could find too. It had an unbelievable appetite and chirped loudly and incessantly whenever it was hungry, which was pretty much whenever it was awake. It kept me and Mrs. burnt very busy for a couple of weeks, hunting for something to give it and then hand feeding each and every mouthful. But it grew rapidly and we were soon able to add moistened cracked corn and milo to it's diet which made feeding it much easier, although it still required hand feeding for another week or so before it started eating completely on it's own.
It was as cool a pet, for lack of a better name, as I've ever had. When it was near fledging stage it would sit on my shoulder and I could go about my regular routine while it road along with me, picking imaginary, (I hope) bugs off my ears and out of my beard. When it began flying I was thrilled that it would come back to me after flying around for a bit. Once it could fly, I couldn't bear to cage it anymore, so I started leaving it free to do as it wished, but outside, not in the house since it had no concerns whatsoever where it left it's droppings, which were numerous. It seldom left the yard and would either start chirping or come to me if I went outside and called to it. But one day it didn't answer my calls or come to me. I searched everywhere, calling for it over and over as I walked our property and that of the neighbors, but I never saw it again. I'll never know for sure what happened to it but I suspect that it fell victim to a coopers hawk since avoiding predators was something I wasn't able to teach it. We called it chirpy. I never learned if it was a male or female.
They are noisy birds, with a large and varied vocabulary. They are apt to be heard singing about anytime of the year but are definitely more vocal during breeding season. During that time the male birds can be heard all hours of the day from dawn to dusk. They often sit right in the nest box opening, with their heads sticking out and sing for hours, almost certainly in an attempt to attract a mate and probably to warn off would be rivals as well, but I also won't rule out the possibility that they might just feel like singing too.....
If not singing from the nest itself they usually do so from a high perch, favorite spots here are the power lines and the top of the barn. The males often do this little dance like thing that's very cool where they stand upright, flapping their wings, and singing their hearts out all the while, flapping and singing, singing and flapping, endlessly sometimes. It's very cool.
For the most part they get along with each other pretty well. We usually have a pair or two nesting in the barn itself, another pair in an old nest box on the outside of the barn, and another pair in an old mail box house sitting on a fence post a few feet away. Even with three or four nesting pairs living in such a small area they seldom squabble once the nest sites have been won, though there are sometimes some very heated battles leading up to that point. I've seen them lock together in mid air, fall to the ground, in a tangled ball of feathers, pecking and screeching all the way to the ground where they continue to fight. It usually ends with one of them standing over the other and holding it to the ground with a foot. After the loser quits struggling,the victor flys up to the top of the barn or to a nest box and starts singing as though nothing has happened while the loser flies off with no apparent harm done to it, though I'm sure it's pride has been wounded a bit.
I've heard that they can be taught to speak but have never seen it done, though I don't doubt it for a second. They are quite good mimics and if you listen to them you will most likely recognize various bits and pieces of other bird songs mixed in their repertoire. Ours do a large variety of imitations, some I can easily recognize, others that sound vaguely familiar but that I can't quite place, and still others that leave me scratching my head without a clue. I often hear them imitating red tailed hawks around here, and they do a reasonable flicker now and then. Occasionally I hear one doing a pretty nice meadowlark, which tells me they spend quite a bit of time elsewhere since we very rarely get meadowlarks up here on the ridge top. But by far the very best one I hear them do is the call of Bobwhite quail, a bird that has become very scarce here in the last few years. It stops me in my tracks everytime and I have to hear it again, listening very closely, to be able to tell for sure if it's a starling or an actual quail that I'm hearing. I've heard that they also imitate things such as cell phone rings, piano melodies, and the like, but I've never heard them do that. But again, I don't doubt it for a second.
Besides their ability to imitate other birds, they have their own unique vocabulary too. They make all kinds of sounds, from clicks, chuckles and buzzes, to high pitched squeals, to lovely clear whistles. The variety of their calls amazes me and I never get tired of listening to them. I've noticed that outside of breeding season when they call all day long, one of their favorite times to sing is in the evening, not long before they bed down for the night. They often sit together in groups about that time and chatter, chuckle and chortle back and forth in a delightful medley of different sounds. It's really quite remarkable. I'd give a lot to know what they are saying to each other.
I can't write about starlings without mentioning their world famous murmurations. In some areas, Europe mostly I believe, starlings gather by the thousands in the evenings at certain times of the year, just before going to roost for the night, and fly in amazing ever changing formations that in my opinion are among the most beautiful natural events in the world. There is some debate as to why they do this, with most theories relating to predator avoidance but I'm not at all convinced that there isn't more to it than just some kind of "animal instinct". But that's just the romantic in me, and I'm not arguing the whys and wherefores of it with anyone. I just know it's truly an astonishing thing and even after watching many different videos of them an embarrassing number of times, I admit that the incredible beauty of it still makes my heart swell as I watch them. If I ever witnessed it in person, I'm sure I'd need to dry my eyes before they had finished.
If you haven't yet seen this video, (or even if you have), please do yourself a favor and spend a couple of minutes watching this spectacular display of one of natures most incredible wonders.
If it moves you like it does me, a quick search will produce many similar videos for you to enjoy. This one isn't even my favorite, but since I've posted that one a couple times already I thought I better go with another one this time, just as amazing, just in a different setting.
I tried to get a picture of the eggs in the mailbox house this spring but they were way in the back of the box and hidden from view but I dug up an old pic from a long time ago that shows the beautiful blue color of their eggs. This nest was built in the barn in an old abandoned pigeon nest box.
By the time I got back to the mail box house, the birds had long since hatched and were well on their way to fledging.
Just a few days after taking that picture, the parents were trying to coach the babies to spread their wings and see the world outside their mailbox home.
This went on for a couple of days, both parents trying to entice them out with every morsel they brought to the nest. Each time they would land either on the house itself or on the fence just below the house. Instantly one would appear at the door but wouldn't venture out. After a time the parent would fly to the hole and the food would be snatched by whichever one was hanging it's head out the furthest.
After about three days of this I noticed that it had suddenly become very quiet down there so I went and peeked in the box and found it empty. I didn't see any of the family around, but wasn't too concerned because I'd seen the same thing before. I'm not sure what the reason for this is but when they first fledge, they often disappear for a day or two, sometimes more, but eventually the family usually shows back up here. Where do they go, and why do they go there. I have no idea, and would love to know the answer. I have seen the same thing with other birds as well. It's a question I'm hoping to answer some day. This family did return, after a couple of days missing,and all the babies were still present, which isn't always the case. Those first few days are dangerous ones.
Evidently mom and dad brought them home for a bath, or at least that's where I first saw them again. Whether it's related or not, last year a family of bluebirds did exactly the same thing, disappearing for a few days, until I saw them again, also taking their first bath. Coincidence? I wish I knew.
The plumage change from summer to winter is quite significant and gives the birds a very different look. I think both plumages are pretty cool. An interesting and little known thing about starling plumage change is that it doesn't come about by the usual molt method of most birds. As I understand it, starlings molt once in the fall. That molt leaves them with that speckled look. It comes from white tips on the end of their feathers. As winter progresses those white tips slowly wear down and by spring the the spots are gone and the bird looks like it has donned a completely new set of clothes.
Here's a few birds in winter dress.
Puzzling to me is that they are not regular visitors at the feeder, even in winter, but they do show up now and then, especially if there is snow cover. Fortunately we've never seen the bullying problem at the feeders that some folks seem to have with them. When they do come in they just go about the business of eating and pretty much ignore the other birds.
These four made me think of a bearded barbershop quartet.
When no nest box is available they will find a hole somewhere, even if they have to steal one. I couldn't help but feel a bit angry a few years ago when one moved in and took over the nest cavity that a red bellied woodpecker had worked very hard and diligently to excavate. I was able to watch the whole thing, off and on for several days, the woodpecker working, the starling watching quietly from a distance, and it was very interesting that it didn't make it's move until the cavity was completed. I really can't understand why it's so hard for some people to accept the fact that a whole lot goes on inside the heads of some of our wild neighbors. I believe that we give them far too little credit.
This bird isn't nesting but it seems to have found nice sunny spot to get out of the winter winds.
By the end of April their everyday clothes have been shed and they've put on their going out to dinner attire.
This is when the singing begins in earnest and the songs become most interesting.
They alternate positions between their favorite high perch and their chosen nest site, always singing no matter where they are at the moment.
As the mating season goes forward, the males begin singing louder and longer and start doing their flap and sing thing from the tallest perch they can find.
There is much more I could write about starlings but this is getting a bit long for a bucket already. Take another look and listen to the starlings around you next time you see some, you might be surprised at how interesting they are.
You're turn to tell us what's happening in your neighborhood. If it isn't raining when this is published tomorrow I'll be cleaning up the yard debris left from the recent storm, which I'm told has now been officially classified as a tornado by the weather people. Heck, I could have told em that! Anyways, I'll be in and out all day so look for me when you see me.