I’ll bet you’ve always wanted to know about starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), whose Latin name speaks volumes. They’re noisy, gregarious, messy and are blamed for forcing many hole-nesting birds, bluebirds and flickers, even an occasional kestrel, out of their nests for fun and profit. For this the starlings plead “no contest.” They spread across the United States and Canada like the plague after their introduction into New York City’s Central Park in the late 1800’s, just so we unwashed Americans could have the joy of being able to associate, up close and personal, with all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare. I think Pay Back by the Brits sums it up nicely, kind of like the Russians and cheat grass, halogeton, tamarisk and Russian thistle (tumbleweed).
So what can be said that could possibly redeem this rapid breeding invader whose short intestinal tract means they have to consume beaucoup amounts of food to survive? This is great during the summer when insects and creepy-crawlies are their favorite cuisine; it’s during the winter when man-produced food pellets meant for our livestock are like Quaker’s puffed rice or wheat, the digesta are “shot from guns”, another not so an endearing image of the starling. They cost feedlot owners and berry farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. Imagine 100,000 and up to two million starlings descending on your holly orchard or your feedlot. Imagine them staying around for the winter. It’s not hard to imagine spreading Starlicide-treated pellets around your livestock.
Not to defend this image, especially after working with the little rounders for 14 years (six years with the Feds, eight years as a graduate research topic), but they showed me that I was working with quite an intelligent species. Observing these birds in the field, in large pens in Green Canyon and in Skinner boxes in the Experimental Psychology laboratory on USU’s campus, these birds made reasoned judgments concerning the food they ate, spatially and temporally learning to avoid poisoned food, teaching another the avoidance pattern they had learned, making decisions just like we do, thinking, learning from mistakes. We tried to eliminate them without success. We could try convincing them that eating at feedlots or orchards is a dangerous game and repel the little rounders. Whatever the case they are here to stay, but it would be nice if there weren’t quite so many.
This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Photo: Courtesy US FWS, Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer
Theme music: Trout and Berry Days, by Don Anderson and performed by Leaping Lulu
Text: C. Val Grant, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Voice Talent: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Listen for this Bird:
European Starling 1, European Starling 2, and European Starling 3, as recorded by Kevin Colver of https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections and found on the Western Soundscape Archive at the University of Utah. (Opens in a separate window.)
European Starling Identification, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University,
Mayntz, Melissa, European Starling Identification, The Spruce, September 17, 2020, https://www.thespruce.com/european-starling-identification-385980
European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, National Invasive Species Information Center, US Department of Agriculture (USDA), https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/animals/eurostarling.shtml
European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, Seattle Audubon Society, https://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird_details.aspx?id=360
European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris, Utah Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=sturnus%20vulgaris
EPA R.E.D Facts–Starlicide(3-chloro-p-toluidine hydrochloride), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),