CONNELLY: Was Shakespeare responsible for common Idaho bird? – Post Register


An adult starling showing the glossy black plumage with a purplish metallic sheen.
Juvenile starlings are a drab brown and seem to be just as noisy as the adults.
Starling nestlings in a tree cavity.

An adult starling showing the glossy black plumage with a purplish metallic sheen.
Juvenile starlings are a drab brown and seem to be just as noisy as the adults.
Starling nestlings in a tree cavity.
One tale has it that a common bird species in Idaho, and much of the U.S., owes its presence in North America to a group who wanted America to have all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare. Although a popular story, this claim has been questioned and apparently traced to a 1948 essay in by naturalist Edwin Way Teale whose notes suggest it was speculation.
Whatever the case, there seems to be agreement that several introduction attempts were made in the late 1800s, most notably in New York City and Portland, Ore. Earlier releases apparently failed, but the 1890 New York and Portland introductions were quite successful. Because of these efforts, more than 200 million starlings now range from Alaska to Mexico, and that is not necessarily a good thing.
The adult starling is about 8 inches long with glossy-black plumage characterized by a purplish-metallic sheen, sometimes speckled with white. The legs are pink and the bill is black in winter and yellow in summer; juveniles have a drab-brown appearance. Starlings are noisy birds, especially when they gather in large communal roosts. Their song is varied but doesn’t offer much in terms of harmonious quality unless you enjoy poorly-played heavy metal music. Starlings are also great vocal mimics; individuals can learn the calls of up to 20 different avian species.
Starlings focus on insects and other invertebrates when available. Common food items include grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, snails, and earthworms. They also eat fruits, grains, seeds, livestock feed, and garbage.
In spring, male starlings find suitable natural or artificial cavities and build nests to attract females, often decorating the nests with flowers and fresh green material, which females later remove after accepting their mate. The starling lays four or five glossy, pale-blue eggs that hatch in two weeks. Young remain in the nest for another three weeks and are fed by both parents. Fledglings are fed by their parents for another one or two weeks. A pair can raise up to three broods per year, frequently reusing and relining the same nest.
The starling is a highly gregarious species, especially in autumn and winter. Although flock size varies, huge, noisy flocks, often referred to as murmurations, may form near roosts. These large flocks develop a tight sphere-like formation in flight, frequently changing shape, apparently without any sort of leader. Each bird changes its course and speed as a result of the movement of its closest neighbors. These dense concentrations of birds may act as a defense against raptors.
Starlings can benefit agriculture and gardeners by controlling invertebrate pests. However, starlings can also be pests themselves when they feed on fruit, livestock feed, and sprouting crops. Starlings also compete for nest cavities with native species and often take over the nests of native, cavity-nesting birds. In cities and towns, large starling roosts can create a nuisance because of the noise and droppings.
Scientists and conservationists have expressed concern about the starling’s effect on native bird populations. Nevertheless, a 2003 study found few actual negative effects on native species. Only sapsuckers declined due to starlings while other species appeared to hold their own.
Given the number of starlings, it’s not surprising that there are some commercial uses of the species. Starling skins sell for as much as $12 apiece at fly shops and some folks will keep them as pets. In fact, Mozart reportedly had a pet starling which could sing part of his Piano Concerto in G Major. He bought it after hearing it sing a phrase from a work he wrote six weeks previously, which had not yet been performed in public. He became very attached to the bird and arranged an elaborate funeral after it died.
Jack Connelly has lived in Bingham County for over 40 years. He is an avid outdoorsman and has hiked, camped, hunted, and fished over much of the U.S. as well as parts of Europe and Asia. Connelly worked as a biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for over 30 years. He now enjoys retirement with his wife Cheryl raising chickens and bird dogs at their home in Blackfoot.
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