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!