Monday, 19 September 2016

A Choir of Starlings

     Fall is upon us and already some of the trees are starting to change colour. A few mornings have been pleasingly crisp recently, but in general the warmest August on record has slithered into September and one would never know we are less than three weeks away from Thanksgiving. Short-sleeved shirts and tee shirts are still the order of the day.
     On Thursday morning, when doing my regular monitoring chores at the rare Charitable Research in Cambridge, I came across a group of about fifty Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris perched in a couple of snags. 

     There is nothing unusual about this, of course, but the encounter was made memorable by what I heard. The sound coming from them was ethereal and beautiful - burbles, flutelike notes, clear whistles, arpeggios almost, with much of their mimicry included - I was mesmerized. A motet by Palustrina would not have sounded as sweet.

     Common Starlings are not generally spoken of with expressions of endearment, but I confess to having a healthy respect for these birds. They have been introduced into North America and out-compete many of our native species for nest cavities, much to our collective chagrin. But it is we who have brought them here and we are now stuck with the problem.

     They are not going anywhere and their sheer numbers preclude any plan to totally eradicate them. Perhaps others can learn to enjoy them in the way I did on Thursday morning and refrain from the anthropomorphic rhetoric one hears so often.

     This Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii was perched on the same snag as many of the starlings and seemed to be equally entranced with the performance!

     The starlings appeared not to be perturbed by it and the Cooper's Hawk finally flew off without making a pass at them. Perhaps it was already sated and the starlings could somehow detect this.
     The forest floor is always beautiful and worthy of study. I couldn't help but wonder what treasures would be found if one had the time and the skill to really comb through this tiny segment. 

     In any event the sheer sensory delight is a tonic for all who experience it and take the time to drink in its splendour.
     While I was busy conducting a tour for Waterloo Region Nature Miriam was wielding the camera for me and captured these delightful images of a Wood Frog 

     This hardy little frog can tolerate freezing over the winter in appropriate conditions. It is usually found in damp woodlands and swamps with adjacent upland forest, but this individual had strayed into a recently cut alfalfa field.
     Our banding totals were not impressive as birds seemed not to be moving, but people were nevertheless fascinated to see Kevin display his skills.

     On a day's outing with John and Geraldine Sanderson, and Curtiss MacDonald, to Hullett Marsh, we discovered this impressive nest of Blackjacket Wasps Vespula consobrina. It was a splendid discovery but we made sure to keep a respectful distance from them!

     As always, any little foray into the world of nature, produces surprises, new discoveries and delights by the score. I hope you will get out and enjoy it to its fullest. We are right on the cusp of changing seasons when so much is adapting to abbreviated hours of daylight and cooler temperatures, some by migrating, others by entering hibernation and others getting ready to cope with the harsh months still to come. 
     Nature in all its seasons. How could I live without it?

All species banded 17 September: Blue Jay (3), House Wren (1), Nashville Warbler (1), Magnolia Warbler (1), Song Sparrow (3)  Total individuals: 9


  1. I love the Starlings, so colourful, and cheeky too.

  2. Hi Both, another interesting post, we have starlings at home and as you say the mimicry is astounding, we regularly get the sound of a lorry reversing bleeper in the garden, yes a starling. The wood frog is a favourite but the Blackjacket Wasp, as beautiful as the nest is, certainly looks it was best to keep well away. Regards John

  3. The wasps! Oh no! That would have made me a bit nervous. Great pics of the Starlings and I really like the hawk.

  4. There are plenty of Starlings around but I seldom see them and only one year, in the last ten, have I seen them in our fruit trees! The latter of course I do not mind as they are very destructive once they find a tree that is tasty!!! Great post Diane

  5. I saw my first Common Starling in Japan last winter. They seem much less common in the UK these days though............when I was a kid they were almost a 'pest' I recall.

  6. Hello. Really great photos. Greetings.

  7. A most enjoyable post, David. The wasps are extremely smart in appearance!

    As you know, my bird song skills are virtually non-existant. However, the Starlings in my garden don't help the situation as, every time I hear an unfamiliar song, the chances are it's a Starling practising a new vocal refrain!

    Have your Starlings built up numbers to the extent that you get the spectacular mumurations that the get here in UK?

    Love to you both - - Richard

    1. We certainly have huge numbers of starlings, Richard, but I have never witnessed the kind of murmurations you get in Europe, which are truly spectacular. I would love to see it! Perhaps they occur here to and I am simply unaware of it.

  8. Unas fotos fantásticas, los coros de los estorninos son una maravilla para los sentidos. Me ha gustado mucho el reportaje mi amigo David, un fuerte abrazo desde España.

  9. A decade ago -before blogging- a starling was just a starling. After seeing close ups I noticed the wonderful colors and behaviours and just is no longer used for any species. You've made wonderful pictures, David, and so did Miriam. Gr Jan W

  10. Great Post David,Starlings make the best tree decorations.

  11. Hello David, I did not know the Starlings are not native in your part of the world. Were they once introduces by migrating Europeans? I also enjoy their song and sounds they produce when they gather in large numbers and the clouds they form before settling down for the nigt. That Waspnest is indeed impressive! Still having lots of Sunshine overhere and next week I will be again a week at my brothers in France and hope for a Sunny week. The trees here are also changing colors and you can feel it in the air that Autumn is on its way.
    Regards also to your wife.

    1. Good morning Roos. First of all let me wish you a very happy time with your brother in France. It seems to me you are always serene when you visit him. As for starlings, there was an immigrant to the USA, over a hundred years ago - I am not exactly sure of the date, who wished to have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare over here in North America. Most of those species did not survive but the House Sparrow and the Common Starling have succeeded incredibly well. Initially the starlings populated Central Park in New York City, but quickly they spread over the entire continent. They now pose a serious threat to some of our native cavity nesting species. They are aggressive and take over nest holes from woodpeckers, bluebirds, nuthatches etc.

    2. Thank you for your reaction David. I indeed had a wonderful time at my brothers. To bad the Starlings became a pest and a problem for the native birds.

  12. Good evening to you Sir. Sue and I send our best wishes from Greece. We have enjoyed the most delightful meals of moussaka and grilled sea bream. With not a chip in sight just Greek potatoes. All washed down with red wine, a shot of ouzo and a 5star Metaxa. Bliss.

  13. That hawk certainly does seem to be enjoying the chorus. (But that is anthropomorphizing of course). I used to enjoy watching and listening to starlings as they called each other to their tree as the day ended. But that was before I learned their bad habits. I shall try to take your advice to heart though so I might learn to enjoy them again.

  14. I can almost hear the song of the starlings..... lovely portraits of all the critters. Looks like you are having fun.

  15. That's really a lot of starlings! Nice that you could put it so beautifully in the picture. Hawk is also a great beautiful bird and he was pretty good in the tree. The nest of wasps ieuwwww ........... I hope you're not stung;-)

    Kind regards, Helma

  16. Hello David,
    Common starling are very beautifull.
    the metallic colors are exceptional. The man introduced many birds around the world , then it makes loies to destroy them.

  17. Beautiful photos David.

    Also nice to see the nest.
    Greetings Tinie

  18. Dearest David,
    Well, I'm back from the South of France and making my blogging round anew.
    Yes, without nature we cannot live; at least in my opinion.
    You got some very nice photos here and yes, we ought to respect those wasps and stay at a distance!
    Happy weekend and hugs,

  19. The way you described the sound of the starlings ... it was as if I was there, thank you.

    I love the pictures of the Wood Frog, and I agree with you Nature in all its seasons is wonderful, and we should embrace it.

    Good wishes for the weekend

    All the best Jan

  20. Hello David,
    Beautifully so many starlings together.
    The hawks have photographed well, my compliments.
    Best regards, Irma

  21. I love the starlings and the hawk. The frog is so cute. Autumn is here although it's been quite warm so far.

  22. Hello David, I love the hawk and the starling photos. The frog is cute. Wonderful post. Happy weekend to you!

  23. The frog is definitely the greatest treasure since many batracian species are declining dramatically.
    I also appreciated the Cooper's hawk and the starling photos!
    You know by now my position on banding as long as is it not excessive!!
    Thanks for correcting my mistake about the Sand swallow, I was in hurry to prepare my posts for pre-publishing before I left for the Atlantic coast.
    I was disappointed not to see migrating birds but it seems that the extended warmth up north delayed their flight back to Africa.
    Keep well my friend and share warm hugs and abrazos with Miriam :)

  24. I love starlings and their beautiful singing!
    Great photos !!