This introduced European bird is mostly black with white speckles, the feathers showing variously colored hues of green and purple sheen in the sun. The wing feathers have a light brown edge. The beak changes colors by season, being black in the winter, as in the January photos here, and yellow in summer. The legs are bare and pinkish in color.

Starlings are found throughout the United States and southern Canada, preferring urban settings, including grazed pastureland, neighborhoods with trees, golf courses. But they may also be found in woodlands and coastal areas; their habitat versatility promotes their wide dispersal.

Starlings were introduced into North America in the late 1800s in New York’s Central Park and also in Portland, Oregon. It is believed that the Oregon group died out and that the current population of some 150 million birds throughout North and Central America grew from the group of 60 that were released in Central Park.

Starlings are noisy, flocking birds and produce a wide variety of vocalizations, including squeaky, harsh sounds and a characteristic wheezy kind of whistle. They are also good mimics and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart reportedly had a pet starling that learned to sing some of his compositions. Starlings are omnivorous, taking fruit berries, seeds, and all sorts of insects and other invertebrates, foraging on the ground and using the strong beak to uncover prey in the soil or leaf litter or gleaning berries in trees. They are able to catch insects on the wing, and they will also visit bird feeders, and may even take nectar from flowers. Starlings produce two broods per year and both parents participate in feeding the nestlings.

While starlings may serve beneficial roles in ridding croplands of insects, they also damage those crops, eating the fruits, vegetables and grains. They are aggressive birds and have a detrimental effect on other native cavity-nesting birds by outcompeting them for nesting resources. They also create a nuisance in urban areas with the noise and the mess created by their large aggregations.

Though the Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits collecting or killing of migratory birds, the non-native starling is exempt from that law, and a variety of lethal control measures have been employed in the United States to control the numbers of this species. A number of natural predators also help to control starling populations, such as falcons, owls, and hawks. Raccoons and squirrels may raid nests, as well as tree-climbing snakes, such as the black rat snake.

Photos taken along Highway 41 in Moriarty with Nikon P900 camera.

James Taulman
James Taulman

James Taulman is a retired wildlife ecologist who enjoys exploring New Mexico’s natural areas and observing the state’s diverse wildlife. Find him online at researchgate.net and youtube.com.
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