Skip to main content

The beauty of starlings

Photo: Paul Lomax/Wiki Commons

The good ole European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, in nonbreeding plumage. This species, handsome as it may be, is one of the most reviled of North American birds.

Photo: Dick Daniels/Wiki Commons

In its breeding finery, the European Starling is actually a showy bird. Fronted with a bright lemon-yellow bill, the starling is a study in glossy iridescence, reflecting rich purples and deep greens depending on how the light strikes the bird.

European Starlings, however, have no place in North America. They were intentionally released in the early 1890's in New York City by the ecologically ignorant Shakespearean Society. These avid buffs of all things Bill got it in their minds that all animals mentioned by the legendary bard should be established here, so that these beasts might enrich our lives on a daily basis. Fortunately most of their introduction efforts failed, but the starling was a grand success and is now one of the most common birds in the lower 48 states. Starlings' cavity-nesting habits and aggressive demeanor have allowed them to displace many native hole-dwelling birds.

So starlings' reputations have been tarred by the American experience. But there are about 220 species in the family Sturnidae worldwide, and many of them rank high among the most beautiful birds on the planet. I was recently birding with Bernie Master, who had just returned from an Africa trip, and we got on the subject of starlings. Bernie had made some great photographs of some of the showier species, and allowed me to share some with you. I lifted a few other beauties from Wiki Commons to further illustrate the gorgeous diversity of the starling family.

 Photo: Dr. Bernard Master

Cape Glossy Starling, Lamprotornis nitens. The specific epithet nitens means shining. Found throughout much of southern Africa.

 Photo: Wiki Commons

Hildebrandt's Starling, Lamprotornis hildebrandti. Found in Kenya and Tanzania.

 Photo: Dr. Bernard Master

Chestnut-bellied Starling, Lamprotornis pulcher. Ranges throughout much of northern Africa.

 Photo: Dr. Bernard Master

White-collared Starling, Grafisia torquata. Found throughout much of western and central Africa.

 Photo: Emma Dusepo/Wiki Commons

Superb Starling, Lamprotornis superbus. Ranges throughout much of eastern Africa. The animal is indeed superb in appearance.

Photo: Dr. Bernard Master

Meve's Glossy-Starling, Lamprotornis mevesii. Found throughout much of South Africa.

Photo: Dr. Bernard Master

Pale-winged Starling, Onychognathus nabouroup, another South African species.

There are many other beautiful starlings in the world, from Eurasia to Australia to remote Pacific islands. The family also includes the Mynas of eastern Asia.

A gathering of starlings is termed a mumuration. A large murmuration of European Starlings can be a beautiful thing, the swirling cloudlike flocks moving as one, as if a collective brain controls the entire group. CLICK HERE for an utterly amazing murmuration experience.


Auralee said…
Nice try, really. And those were some beautiful photos. But when I can't find a way to put out suet for my woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches without having it destroyed within minutes by...yes, starlings, well, you have to forgive me...I am less than enchanted by starlings, enchanting though they may be.

On the other hand, I saw a bald eagle soaring in the vicinity of Scioto/Audubon on Christmas Eve! And that was fabulous!
Guy said…
Hi Jim

We don’t have many Starlings here so I can afford to be philosophical about them. The shots you posted of all the varieties are really lovely. They are such beautiful birds. And after all they did not fly here, they were bird napped.

All the best for the New Year.
Nice catch! Great pictures from you. Hope too see more pictures like this. Thanks.

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Snowy owl photography tactics - and things NOT to do

A gorgeous juvenile female snowy owl briefly catches your narrator with its piercing gaze. It's doing its Linda Blair/Exorcist trick - twisting its head 180 degrees to look straight behind. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae - double our number - which allows them such flexibility.

These visitors from the high arctic have irrupted big time into Ohio and adjacent regions, with new birds coming to light nearly every day. Probably 80 or so have thus far been reported in the state, and some of them have stuck around favored spots and become local celebrities.

I went to visit one of these birds this morning - the animal above, which was found last Friday by Doug Overacker and Julie Karlson at C.J. Brown Reservoir near Springfield. In the four days since its discovery, many people have visited as is nearly always the case when one of these white wonders appears near a large population center or is otherwise very accessible.

And as is always the case, people want to photograph the owls. And th…