The busy star­ling

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - WEEKEND LIFE - Bruce Mac­tavish Bruce Mac­tavish is an en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant and avid bird­watcher. He can be reached at wingin­gi­tone@ya­

The Euro­pean star­ling has come a long way since its in­tro­duc­tion into North Amer­ica 128 years ago. The story goes that a man named Eugene Schi­ef­fe­lin wanted to in­tro­duce all the birds men­tioned in Wil­liam Shake­speare’s lit­er­ary works into Cen­tral Park, New York City. In 1890 and 1891 he brought a to­tal of 100 Euro­pean star­lings over from Europe and re­leased them in Cen­tral Park. No one could have known at the time how the star­ling would take off in North Amer­ica so that now star­lings prob­a­bly out­num­ber hu­man be­ings in the United States and Canada.

Star­lings are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered as pests in North Amer­ica. They find flaws in our eves, roof­ing, bridges, sheds and other man­made struc­tures for nest­ing sites. They also use wood­pecker holes to house their nest. The star­lings fight with wood­peck­ers for the open­ings that wood­peck­ers ex­ca­vated for their own nest. The red-headed wood­pecker of east­ern United States and On­tario suf­fered greatly be­cause of the ag­gres­sive star­ling. Other wood­peck­ers have coped by fighting back. An­other main­land species, the east­ern blue­bird also lost out. Aban­doned wood­pecker holes were a pri­mary source of a home for nest­ing blue­birds. Now they nest al­most ex­clu­sively in nest boxes con­structed with a hole just big enough for the slightly smaller blue­bird to en­ter but not the star­ling.

The first star­lings ar­rived in New­found­land af­ter the Cen­tral Park in­tro­duc­tion in 1943. Five years later small flocks were be­ing re­ported. Now they are part of the nat­u­ral world of New­found­land and Labrador. How­ever, star­lings are ur­ban birds. You will not of­ten see a star­ling far from hu­man habi­ta­tion. There are large tracts of forested land in the province where star­lings never oc­cur.

Star­lings feed in open ar­eas and sit­u­a­tions cre­ated by man. They feed on our ex­cesses. Star­ling hold their own with other city slicker birds even com­pet­ing with gulls for fries at your lo­cal burger joint. They check out the dump­sters when the lid is left open. They ac­com­pany crows that have ripped open a garbage bag placed by the curb. Quick on their feet. star­lings scurry in to grab tid­bits of waste food be­fore the crows can seize it.

Flocks of star­lings swarm our lawns and sports fields. They march over the grass jab­bing their spike-like beaks into the ground with blind faith prob­ing for in­ver­te­brate life. The leather jacket, among the worst pests of the back­yard lawn does not stand a chance when a ma­raud­ing flock of star­lings moves through. Ev­ery­thing is fair game in­clud­ing bee­tles, cen­tipedes, ants, spi­ders and var­i­ous grubs. In gen­eral, they are do­ing your lawn a ser­vice. On big­ger lawns and sports­fields the flocks can num­ber in the hun­dreds. They are noisy, mak­ing sounds that can only be de­scribed as coarse squawks and squeals. They move in uni­son flood­ing the air in an instant af­ter the slight­est threat of dan­ger from the sky over­head and then si­mul­ta­ne­ously all land­ing again. Hawks prey on star­lings. A fat star­ling makes a nice meal for the ur­ban sharp-shinned hawk.

Star­lings have an odd al­most greasy look­ing plumage. They is one of the few birds that ac­tu­ally look more at­trac­tive in the win­ter than sum­mer. The glossy black­ish-green feath­ers of sum­mer be­come tipped with sil­very white dur­ing the win­ter. Young star­lings hatched this year start out with a plain brown plumage. The adult plumage comes dur­ing the fall grow­ing out in patches. It is com­mon to see a young star­ling dur­ing the tran­si­tion look­ing like it is dressed in a quilt com­prised of plain brown and sil­ver-speck­led black squares. The young star­lings could not care less if you laugh at them for their wardrobe. They are too busy liv­ing the fren­zied life of the star­ling.

Bird sight­ings of the week Rare bird of the week was duck called the red­head. The red­head is a div­ing duck with a cen­tre of abun­dance in the Prairie Prov­inces. Large num­bers mi­grate to the mid-at­lantic coast of the United States to spend the win­ter. A few oc­ca­sion­ally stray to At­lantic Canada, but they rarely reach as far east as the is­land of New­found­land. It was Al­van Buck­ley who dis­cov­ered the drake red­head at Kenny’s Pond in St. John’s. Kenny’s Pond is a favourite pond for fresh­wa­ter div­ing ducks so there is a good chance this at­trac­tive in­di­vid­ual will stay around for days or maybe weeks for all to ad­mire.

Feeder watch­ers en­joyed some spice this last week. A yellow-headed black­bird fre­quented the feeder of Eileen and Paddy Power of North Har­bour, St. Mary’s Bay, for a few days. Sue Kel­land-dyer of Pt. La Haye had two dick­cis­sels at her feeder for the first time. The strong yellow wash on the breast makes the dick­cis­sel stand out from the house spar­rows with which they like to flock at the bird feeder.

There is lots of fall left to en­joy.


Be­hind the sil­ver spots of the Euro­pean star­ling lies an in­tel­li­gent and suc­cess­ful bird.

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