Follow-up Friday: Sculpt

By popular request (okay, Jayne  in Australia asked, and I thought Novroz over in Indonesia might not know these birds), I have decided to present a few photos of a European Starling chiseling away at our suet feeder. Since the photos, taken with the zoom lens through the living room window and then tightly cropped, aren’t very sharp, I will plague treat you to four pictures to give as much fuzzy subtle detail as possible.

Starlings are medium-small birds, bigger than sparrows but smaller than crows. (To compare, the suet cage is about 13 X 15 cm.) Males and females look pretty much the same.

Other than their pink feet, the colouration of European Starlings depends on the season and the time of day. In Winter, they’re spottier because they’ve worn their body feathers down to the spots.*** In their new Spring outfits, they’re a little more uniformly black. In Winter, their beaks are darker; in Spring, they turn yellow.

If you squint a bit, you’ll notice a green sheen on this bird’s feathers. That’s a trick of the sunlight that starlings share with other black-feathered birds.

You don’t need to squint at all to notice that the suet cage is now broadside to the camera. The wind that day was spinning the cage like a hypnotist’s watch.

In this photo, you can see the starling’s long, narrow, pointy beak. It works well for picking bugs out of the grass, plucking berries from bushes, or pulling bits of suet from between the cage bars. Starlings will eat anything. They are not picky eaters, like birds of prey. The raptors, however, aren’t jealous. Instead, they graciously rejoice in the starlings’ easygoing ways that have helped to spread their population, in just over a century, from one end of North America to the other.

Starlings also make tasty, nutritious meals for hawks.

One last picture. Here you can see the starling pausing to inspect its artwork. Will it incise “I love Turtle”? Will it fashion a reliefwork basket of tulips? Will it decide which breadcrumb is biggest and best?

The world will never know.

My funny valentine was in fact the work of many starlings, not simply the sculptor seen above. They often arrive by the dozen, some playing King of the Castle on the suet cage while others stand on the snow beneath, catching the fatty crumbs that the mock warmakers drop. Their chattering and clowning in the snow-coated stillness brightens my day.

***Nota bene: I got this part wrong. Starlings get new clothes for Rosh Hashanah, not Easter. Their new suits are spotted, and by Spring they have worn some of the spots off! Please check out Seabrooke’s informative blog entry for more info on these birds.

17 Responses to Follow-up Friday: Sculpt

  1. Now, if the starlings start leaving messages in the suet (a la Charlotte’s Web)…

  2. lavenderbay says:

    My homemade suet block contained a quart of saved-up fat scraps, Stephanie, including some pork chop edgings. I’m laughing more than is probably decent just now.

  3. eyegillian says:

    Well, if only pigs had wings…

    (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  4. lavenderbay says:

    Kind of a Zen koan, eh, Eyegillian?

  5. Seabrooke says:

    I love starlings. I wouldn’t mind having some coming to our feeders. But they can really be pigs when they come in flocks, so maybe not too many. 😉

    You might have read this on my blog already, but you can actually sex starlings most of the year, when their bills are yellow: the base of the bill is pink in females, blue in males. There are subtle differences in plumage and also iris colour, too, which are present year-round, but these are harder to see unless you have the bird in your hand. 😉

  6. Binky says:

    I didn’t know this blog was going to be so educational! We will be expecting more of these Hinterland’s Who’s Who reports in the future.

  7. Very informative. I find starlings can go through a block of suet way faster than the woodpeckers do. Fortunately, starlings tend to be townies.

  8. Tony McGurk says:

    We have starlings here in Tasmania but I don’t know if tey are the same or a different variety. Their beaks work well for eating my raspberries from my garden too. I let them be though as all creatures need to find food & it’s a good thing if my garden can help out a bit as I don’t mind sharing with them. I love birds, even plain little sparrows & starlings.

  9. lavenderbay says:

    They’re such cheery little things, Seabrooke. And they don’t tip out all the seed from the mixed seed feeder like the gangs of migrating grackles did in the Autumn. I loosed the furpods on those guys!
    I remembered your trick about starling bills, but to me they’re almost as small as songbird irises, neither of which show up in the photos above. I see I got your moulting lesson backwards again, though! I’ll leave a link to your entry.

    Cue the flutes, Binky! I have a B.Ed, but failed to get certification to teach because I had zero classroom control. Writing suits me much better. You’d better check out Seabrooke’s blog entry, though, if you want correct information on spottiness.

    I haven’t minded the starlings at the feeder this year, Barefootheart, because there haven’t been any woodpeckers — or juncos or tree sparrows or anything except chickadees and goldfinches and one passing flock of redpolls. Strange that they’re such a different mix from last year.

    Looks like you have the same starlings, Tony — you call them Common Starlings — as the one in this entry. Yours were brought in for bug control, ours were brought in to honour Shakespeare, but both groups settled in their new homes quite happily. There is a starling, the Shining Starling or Metallic Starling, in northeastern Queensland, which migrates to New Guinea for the winter months.

  10. Colleen Dick says:

    Haha starlings. I learned a lot about them from this post. Here I’ll share a sneak peak of an online storyboard of a starling comic that I have in the queue.

  11. Novroz says:

    Aw Thank you for remembering me when you explain this 🙂
    This is very educative and I learn a lot. I’ll look it up later if this bird also appear in Indonesia.

  12. Jayne says:

    What pretty birdies!
    Def worth the suet treat and photos 😉

  13. lavenderbay says:

    Good choice for an “underprivileged” bird, Colleen. Starlings are too happy, healthy, gregarious, and numerous for many people’s tastes. Hmmm…

    You’re welcome, Novroz! What I know about Indonesia wouldn’t even fill a teaspoon. I love learning about other places, and so I enjoy sharing what I know about my place, too. Fair is fair, right?

    Yes, they are worth it, Jayne. Starlings are the only bird I know who sing and chatter merrily when it’s, like, minus 200 degrees out.

  14. Novroz says:

    This might sound like and ad but you can learn more about my country from my monthly post about all things Indonesian called Indonesia Banget. I always post it in the 17th of each month. Just like you, I love sharing the uniqueness of my country 🙂 (I sound so much like a saleswoman 🙂 )

  15. lavenderbay says:

    Thanks for the tip, Novroz! I just read your latest one, dealing with funeral customs. I’ll have to visit from time to time to catch up with the first half-dozen of these posts.
    For anyone else who wants a peek, if you go here to Novroz’s non-turtle blog and scroll down a bit, you’ll find “Indonesia Banget” in the Category bar.

  16. Novroz says:

    Thank you for the shout out,I really appreciate it.
    I’ve done some wikipedia search and it turns out we have 2 species of starlings; This is from Bali,_Chicago,_USA-8a_%281%29.jpg and this one is from java

  17. lavenderbay says:

    Thanks, Novroz! I especially like the Bali Starling, with its blue eyeline.

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