Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Second Look at Starlings

Yesterday’s extraordinary video about Starling murmuration got me thinking more about this bird and its rightful place in the American avian community.  These birds did not fly across the pond but were brought here by misguided humans.

As the story goes, in the late 19th century a group called the American Acclimatization Society thought it would be cool to introduce into the U.S. every bird mentioned in Shakespearean plays.  This is the same group that also introduced the House Sparrow to our shores.

Around 1890 about 100 starlings were released in New York City’s Central Park.  Sixty years later the birds could be found across the entire continent.  Today their North American numbers top 200 million.  As bird-watcher Jeffrey Rosen put it in a 2007 New York Times article, “It isn’t their fault that they treated an open continent much as we ourselves did.”

It is my opinion that since humans created the situation we have a moral obligation to deal with the problem in a humane  and ethical manner.

After years of birding experience, I have developed practices that I believe are fair and sensible and in the best interests of all my avians. 

For starters, I put sunflower hearts and the fancy specialty blends, like fruit and nut mix, in cage-type feeders.  If Starlings, or for that matter Blue Jays or other large birds wish to hang on the bottom and eat off the “floor” that is fine with me.  The fallen food will only mildew anyway. 

Starlings, on account of their strange jaw-type beaks, have a difficult time eating regular black oil sunflower seeds so I keep my easy to access platform feeders filled with the husk-on variety.

After the pricey fruit blends, Starlings next choice is suet.  After going thru literally hundreds of cakes “stolen” by Crows I now buy only the Stokes brand locked suet feeders.  With a hinged door that snaps shut on the top, the cake cannot be tossed out of the holder and onto the ground.   This style feeder requires birds to actually perch and feed from the basket rather than leisurely eating off the earth and thus drastically reduces “piggish” behavior. 

Placement of feeders also helps a great deal in controlling avian feeding.  After years of shooing them away from the little birds’ food, the Starlings and Crows now, for the most part,  stay away from the front yard.  

Starlings and Crows are welcome to eat in the backyard and gazebo area where I put out suet cage feeders with bargain brand cakes.

When it comes to nesting and roosting cavities, all I can do is make sure that dead trees in the forest are left alone.  There seems to be enough habitat for everyone as this year’s crop of Red-bellied, Downy and Hairy  Woodpeckers is large and thriving. 

I like to think I am treating the Crows and Starlings with the compassion that all God’s creatures deserve.  When I first started in birding, I must admit I was turned off by the attitude of some “professional” birders.  Many only wished to feed the “pretty” birds and bought feeders that prevented some species, like the sweet little House Finches, from eating.  From the start I made a pledge I would never become a bird snob. 

I truly believe there is beauty to be found in every bird, as, apparently, do many others, for Starlings are not without their admirers.  Some avian enthusiasts delight in the bird’s intelligence, marvel at their acrobatics and are amazed at their ability to imitate other birds, sounds, etc.  Because they are considered a “nuisance bird,” the law allows people to raise abandoned baby Starlings so they are becoming more common and popular as pets.

To learn more about Starlings, please visit this excellent website which presents contradictory evidence that these birds are harmful to native species.  

And listen to Pepper, the amazing communicator.

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