Saturday, March 17, 2007

Starling Song

I was walking in a parking lot of a local nursing home this week when I heard a most unusual bird song that I could not identify. At this time of year it is easy to see the birds you hear and I located this starling on a lamp post. I was facing the sun and captured a silhouetted outline. The song was complex and sounded thrush-like. I was most confused as I have always associated starlings with harsh and noisy cacophonies. But there was no doubt that this black, yellow-billed bird was a starling. I even found the entrance to his messy nest in a cavity created by a space in the soffit of the building eaves.

Starlings were introduced to North America in the late 19th century in a misguided attempt to introduce the birds of Shakespeare to the New World. They have thrived and become a nuisance, competing with native birds for cavity nesting sites. Here is a quote from my birding guide.

Both males and females can sing and make a variety of calls, whistles, and more complex songs. The males typically sing two types of songs, one consisting primarily of loud whistles and the other a so-called “warbling song” that often incorporates mimicry of other species. An individual bird can mimic up to 20 species, including Eastern Wood Pewee, Killdeer, and Meadowlark songs. It has been observed that longer songs are more successful in attracting a mate.

The starling is mentioned only once by Shakespeare in the play Henry IV. This bird was known for its remarkable a power of imitation, and was taught to say some words. Hotspur declares that although the King had forbidden him to speak of Mortimer he would find his Majesty.

“When he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’
I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.”
[1st Henry IV – I, 3]

(From the web site called "The Birds of Shakespeare")

I have included a WM file from the CD enclosed in the book Music of the Birds which I described in a recent post. The starling song I heard was more melodic than this sample. He must have been trying to woo a special lady indeed!


  1. Every morning between 8-9am, there are several starlings clinging to the top of the highest pine on campus. I watch and listen to them nearly every morning and their songs are interesting. They seem to be irritated but I guess it's their language I don't understand. Nice post, Ruth. You always have info to share.

  2. Just as with any species, one or two are quaint, but when they bring 100 of their closest friends and crash the party, it's a most unwelcome event. :c) Interesting facts!

  3.'s getting smarter with html... ;)

  4. Hi..
    Thank you for backliknig to me
    Deepa from Some Template tips

  5. I actually enjoy listening to large flocks of several hundred in a tree.-It seems there is much communication going on.-People in Europe appreciate Starlings a lot more than we do.-

  6. Isn't it amazing how many species get introduced to N. America in an attempt to. . .replicate the old world (starlings), or to bring in a possible source for silk (gypsy moths) and on and on the list goes. Why was kudzu introduced? Or zebra clams--oh, they hitch-hiked. Humans too frequently mess it up when they try to over-ride nature.

  7. Mary- I think starlings usually sound irritated, especially in groups. That is why I was so surprised at how melodious this one was.

    Jayne- I love you word picture. They are "gang" birds and scare away the birds we really want to see. (Sounds like some people I know ;-))

    Becka- Maybe I will be as smart as my children some day!

    Deepa- Your info on putting a sound file on a post was very helpful.

    Larry- I have to admire the adaptability and intelligence of these birds. Someone from Europe must have admired them if they felt they should be brought to North America.

    KGMom- We really run a risk of tipping the natural balance with non-native species of any kind. (I described the problems with our Norway maples in another post)


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.