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Bird Bits: European starlings - One of Shakespeare's birds

Posted: July 19, 2013 - 12:02am
An adult European starling is pictured with a dark winter beak.   Photo courtesy of Bob Armstrong
Photo courtesy of Bob Armstrong
An adult European starling is pictured with a dark winter beak.

The woods were quieter there for awhile.

But little rain and a lot of insects have some birds starting a second brood. That’s a dangerous move if it begins to rain — as is traditional for summer in our area — since birds will be forced to work harder for insects and nests have a tendency to get soggy and cold.

Speaking of nests, has a half a sky blue shell on the ground caught your eye? They make a nice treasure. It may have fallen from a nest above during housekeeping. Or, new parents might have hauled it away from the nesting area altogether, as a foil to predators. Squirrels also patronize such neighborhood stops.

There’s also a darker prospect: There are birds whose life strategy is opportunism. When other parent birds aren’t looking, certain bird species might toss original eggs overboard and commandeer those parents into hatching and caring for a new and alien egg clutch laid in their nest. Eggs and chicks are also a quick food stop, but not just for other birds. Take the female European starling, for instance. She might need to use the parasitic tactic of egg laying amongst other birds’ eggs to ensure the survival of her species.

It’s hard being a bird parent, maybe harder than raising teens, or teens raising parents.

All of the starlings in North America are descendents of 100 birds first released in New York’s Central Park in 1890. It was someone’s notion to share all of Shakespeare’s birds with the new Americas.

My father, who raised cherries, had no use for starlings. Neighboring vegetable farmers watched their seeds and sprouts be eaten. But I have to give starlings their due: They are resilient, omnivorous with a huge insect appetite, adaptable and seem to have a gift for mimicry.

In the summer, they are a bejeweled, glossy, iridescent black with pink feet and a yellow bill.

Add hardy to their good attributes. They winter in Juneau now.

• Patricia Wherry is the education chairperson for the Juneau Audubon Society. Contact her at education@juneau_audubon_society.org.

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