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.