Thursday, January 7, 2010

What a face…what a face…(or beauty "in" the beast)

Our winter starlings have started visiting our feeders. (Oh, boy...right?) Actually, it's quite exciting when a flock descends on the yard. Hundreds and hundreds of birds swirl about squawking, scolding, and fighting...tree branches drip with the little feathered beasts, and I can hear them tapping across the gutters and on the roof. They bring in a lot of energy. Unfortunately, they eat up a lot of sunflower seeds, and they wreak havoc on the less rowdy birds that usually hang out. We have starlings year round, but they only become a nuisance during the winter when the ground is frozen. During the spring, summer and fall they keep to the ground, using their sharp bills to dig in the yard and root out grubs. They only get a little "beastly" during the winter...

...a starling looks a bit beastly in this head-on close-up shot!
I'm back, so you better get used to me!

When you step back from the “ucky stuff” they do, European Starlings are striking. Up close you can see their beauty, and they actually do a lot of good on the insect front. Invertebrates are their primary food source, and when bugs are available, European Starlings really do prefer Japanese Beetles to sunflower seeds...

Close-up of the beautiful colors in a starling's feathers
Don't hate me because I'm beautiful...
Three starlings sit together in the snow...not happy looking at all!
Grumpy, Grumpier...and Grumpiest
There are no Japanese Beetles in winter, and the June Bug grubs have burrowed beneath the frost line, so what's a starling to do? Be grumpy...and eat all of the sunflower seeds!


When the sun highlights their iridescent colors, they really are eye catching, but unless you look closely, you might not see it. Additionally, in the winter, their feathers are fresh and new, which adds a beautiful speckled pattern. By summer the speckling has worn off... 

Close-up of the beautiful colors in a starling's feathers

Close-up of the beautiful colors in a starling's feathers

Close-up of the beautiful colors in a starling's feathers

...another bit of beauty starlings add to the world is their incredible winged ballet. A huge night-time starling roost is about a mile from our house, so in the early evenings of winter, we get to witness this spectacle…swirls and turns, a giant black cloud that moves at incredible angles quickly and without pattern...it makes me stop and stare every time I see it. Click here for a video from England that shows an example of this incredible sight. Click here for a post titled "How do Starling Flocks Create Those Mesmerizing Murmurations?" on Cornell's Round Robin blog by Andrea Alfano detailing these murmurations.

...starlings sitting in a tree.
...so while the ground remains frozen and covered with snow, we will probably always be a daytime roost for one of the flocks of starlings from our neighborhood night-time roost. 


I always try to remember that with the bad comes the good. We don't use pesticides on our lawn, so in the summer, starlings go to work for us. They are great at aerating the soil by digging up White Grubs (the larval stage of "June Bugs"), Sod Webworms, and other juicy invertebrates, which helps keep our lawn healthy.  The US Department of Agriculture's Farmer's Bulletin (1928) No1571 reports, "The starling is one of the most effective bird enemies of terrestrial insect pests in this country. More than half (57 percent) of the annual food of the adult starling consists of animal matter, including insects, millipedes, spiders, mollusks, a few crustaceans, and bits of suet and carrion." For more on the diet of the European Starling, click here. To learn more about night-time roosts and starling behavior, click here.

Happy Birding!
     Kelly

58 comments:

BirdingMaine said...

Stunning photos of the E. Starling! They can be nasty, but they are beautiful!

sharon said...

Wow - I absolutely love the Starling photos, you've definitely captured their character!

Diane said...

Be proud Starling Birds! Beautiful birds and gritty and determined at the same time. Not easy being disliked or shunned - we created their problem - and now we blame them. Great pictures, Kelly!

Warren Baker said...

You've excelled yourself with those starling photo's kelly - beautiful!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Absolutely marvelous photos! Really, really fine.

Few starlings here on the riverbank. The feeders are busy today, of course. I do have some mallards, up from the river to see what all the fuss is about, working on my scattered cracked corn.

I used to "collect" about two starlings per year to use their feathers for fly tying. Your photos show why. European fly tyers have long employed starling feathers in several trout fly patterns.

I loved this post.

Roy said...

Beautiful photographs Kelly, amazing detail and colouring.

Cherrie said...

I just love your blog! Thanks for the pictures! I have never seen starlings before, they have beautiful colors. I don't think we get them here in Southern AZ.

Teri C said...

Absolutely stunning photos!!! I never liked Starlings before but the colors in here are awesome.

The first one reminds of the "mad bluebird"

These are real WOWZERS!

Vickie said...

Gorgeous images--like art. I never thought of a starling as beautiful. But they clearly can be stunning (with a bit of personality thrown in!) in the right light!

JPT said...

I saw about (at least) ten thousand Starlings the other day flying overhead whilst I was at work and without my camera!
They are a bird that I am very fond of.

Susan said...

Kelly - Your starlings are stunning, and I love the three little grumps. I'm no tfond of them either -but when seen through your lense, I feel a little differently towards them

Jenny said...

I can only agree with other comments Kelly. Those photos are stunning! You've captured their irridescence beautifully. Shame they're such greedy so and so's! (-:

Chris said...

HI Kelly,
Beautiful post and nice pictures of Sir starling! I still think they are too many of them but this is probably because at this period of the year they are the most common bird in Iceland ;-)

Laure Ferlita said...

Beauty of the beast?!

Loved your grumpy, grumpier and grumpiest shot!

Robin said...

I don't think I've ever seen these birds before. Great pictures and their feathers are so neat!

Busy Bee Suz said...

They are just gorgeous...love all the color variations on them.
Nice information about them too...gotta love it when 'someone' else can be the exterminator.

Cindy said...

Gorgeous birds. I've never seen one like this before. I love that little white/light color on the tips of their feathers. They do look a bit grumpy. Great photos.

Cindy

Betsy from Tennessee said...

We have some around here also, Kelly. So far, I have scared them away from the feeders--just like I do the squirrels. TODAY--the squirrels were WORSE...Drove me crazy!!!!!

I have a hard time seeing any beauty in the Starlings --but you did get some great pictures. And George likes the idea that they will eat Japanese Beetles...

Hugs,
Betsy

JeniQ said...

Wow what a gorgeous bird! Double WOW - what exquisite photos!

p.s Thanks for putting chocolate on the 3rd floor!

Wanda said...

Magnificent photos Kelly...just startling beautiful...I made my husband view them...really perfect captions with them too. Those photos were worth their decimating your feeders...don't you think?

The Early Birder said...

Stunning pics Kelly. The numbers visiting us have increased during the past few days but so far they are not being too greedy!

Roy said...

I'm with Betsy - you got some great pictures, and they do have pretty feathers, but... They're a nuisance, and they're not native. They may eat a lot of grubs, but so do Skunks, Raccoons, Robins, Thrushes, and others, all native species. They're foreign invaders who are responsible for the decline in many native songbird species due to loss of habitat caused by the overabundance and aggressiveness (they'll shove birds out of their nests to set up their own) of Starlings. So I'm not a big fan. The guy who runs our every-other-Sunday bird walk calls them "Darling Starlings" with tongue firmly in cheek.

Richard said...

Don't think I've ever seen the blues and greens on a Starling before. Great pictures.

How can you get mad at any bird that covers it's entire body with little hearts all winter?

holdingmoments said...

You've really captured their beauty in these pictures Kelly.
A bird you either love, or hate.
I love 'em. Bold, brash, noisy, adaptable and full of character.

TonyC said...

Great pics of a much maligned bird Kelly. Thanks for the great photos.

Mary said...

I had the same pests here today in our snow. They ate every bit of the new peanut butter/grease mix I had made up. Sigh. Frustrating. They are pretty, but of so greedy.

Craig Glenn said...

REALLY great shots Kelly!

Well done

Craig

Ginnymo said...

Wow! You sure got their colors real good in your photos Kelly. I think they are pretty also. But I'm sure glad I only have a few around here and not a whole flock of them. I like their non-breeding plumage in the winter. Great post Kelly!!

Elaine said...

These are absolutely gorgeous photos, Kelly! We don't have the starlings here and I don't have to contend with the problems associated with them, so I can just enjoy your beautiful photos.

forestal said...

wonderful photos, you captured the colors superbly

dan

Jayne said...

I feel your pain Kelly. But, I'll agree, when you see the plumage close up like that, you can appreciate the beauty. I guess we just wish that they didn't hang out in such ginormous flocks. It's frustrating to have something that big descend upon a feeder station, bully the songbirds, and empty it in record time.

JKoenig said...

I don't recall any of the starlings we have around here being so colorfull. They sure do seem to have grumpy disposition!

Hilke Breder said...

Kelly, I love your Starling photos, especially the first one. Thanks also for the info on starlings' diets. They have never appeared at my feeder, but sometimes the trees in the area are black with them so that the trees look like they are having black leaves.

Montanagirl said...

Starlings really are beautiful. We don't seem to be bothered with them too much here. Occasionally, I'll see a few, and when the sun hits them, wow what colors. Smashing photos, Kelly!

Uncommon Depth said...

They are a beautiful bird. It's too bad they cause so many problems. Your photos of them are really terrific!

Gaina said...

I love starlings, icky habits and all! Haha.

They are so smart and never cease to amuse me with their antics. We had a huge flock of juveniles descend on my garden in the summer - many's the time I've been seen at my back door crying with laughter.

It's interesting to note that the ones where I live are a little more reserved than the ones at the coast, not far away - they will pinch your fries if you're not careful! I remember seeing a lady outside a café having her lunch with a starling sitting on the table looking at her as if to say 'You gonna eat that?'. Haha

E said...

Great pics of the starlings, interesting articles, Kelly. Thanks for telling the stories.
A thousand hugs.

Chris Petrak said...

Yes! good post on starlings - they are gorgeous when we get pass our prejudice and eat a lot of pests. And grumpy? why not when you live outside in the winter. I see a lot of birds that look "grumpy" when they are fluffed and staring right at us.

troutbirder said...

That first one is kind of intimidating. The red heads use to rule the roost here but now long gone the red-bellies have taken their place in the fight against tyrany even chasing off the squirrels.

Cindy said...

Kelly. Those starling feathers really are gorgeous; nice pictures. That first picture almost looks like the starling has frost all over it. LOL
I've just put out a birdfeeder for the first time. I don't have a large variety, but they are still fun to watch.

Tina said...

Kelly,
You've really captured the wonder of these birds..your photos are stunning and the way you have presented them make those colors really sing!
Great post!

NPT said...

they are beautiful...........

Gabrielle said...

I think everyone else has used up all of the possible adjectives to describe these photos - stunning, amazing, beautiful, marvelous...

I also think that Grumpy, Grumpier and Grumpiest would make an excellent painting!

Coy said...

You have captured the starlings well, captured details that few get close enough to see and yes they are beautiful! Like so many things they do have both a good & bad side, at least in human opinion but they are here to stay so we had best enjoy them.

Dave Lewis said...

The head on shot is great!
I still don't like them...they wiped out our feeders Friday and the Doodles won't let me make them go away...

Carol Mattingly said...

Kelly, these photos are absolutely gorgeous. Hands down the best of any I've seen lately. Thank you so much for sharing them. Love them. Carol

Phil and Mandy said...

Hi, your Starlings are a lot prettier than ours and that woodpecker is simply gorgeous. Regards Phil

JRandSue said...

Wow,outstanding photography.
Amazing Starling images Kelly.
John.

Kelly said...

...don't these guys drive you nuts? They are eating me out of house and home (so the saying goes), but they are beautiful...and they can't help that they are here. One thing that's cool....all their ruckus and commotion enticed a passing Phoebe to drop down for a drink and a bite and to see what was happening. We've never had a Phoebe at our feeders...ever! But in the midst of the starling clatter, one flew up to the round ball feeder and hung on to the hole. I couldn't believe it. It's January, after all--just a tad early for us. I had meal worms out there too, so maybe she will come back.

I never really took the time to study the beauty of a starling until last week, and I was amazed at the colors showing up. You have to look closely, though... Thank you for stopping by and all the wonderful comments.

Anna said...

Kelly Kelly starlings are not everyone's favorite birds, but you know you made the look great, what a nice photo gallery of them. I like them too, and have many photos of them. By the end of summer they usually sit on the top of the light posts, puff up and sing. It looks so cool. Happy New Year. Anna :)

Caroline said...

Terrific post Kelly - I'd love to have a go at painting a starling one day - those feathers are just asking for it!!

Allison said...

We just discovered the bird over the weekend when we put up our feeders and then they arrived--seemingly hundreds in the trees all around our house. Amazing!

Kerri said...

Wow - they are gorgeous!

Tabib said...

Wow!... fierce frontal post!

Andrea said...

I really had no idea there were colors hiding on those feathers.

Greener Bangalore said...

lovely colorful birdies Kelly

dreamfalcon said...

great starling pictures - with all these details!

oldcrow61 said...

omg, those pictures are priceless.