Apr 08 2009

Not Angels

Published by at 7:15 am under Songbirds

European starlings from below (photo by Chuck Tague)I usually think of European starlings as boring, if not obnoxious.  They hang out in raucous flocks, hassle native birds, and make a lot of annoying, wiry noises.  In the spring they look oily, their feathers so shiny and rough. 

Yet they’re still able to surprise me.  I learned three new facts about them this week.

How many birds do you know whose underwings are a different color than their bellies? 

My favorite in this category are black-bellied plovers in non-breeding (winter) plumage:  sandy brown backs, white bellies and black “armpits.” 

Well, starlings are in this category too.  Their entire bodies are dark but their underwings are grayish brown.  Before I understood this, I thought it was a trick of the light that their underwings looked pale, but this reasoning didn’t work on cloudy days.  Finally, I consulted my field guide. 

Not only do they have pale underwings but their flight feathers are translucent!  That’s why you can see through their wings on sunny days and why they look like angels in this picture.

And finally, I’ve read you can tell the difference between adult males and females in the spring.  Per Cornell’s Birds of North America Online, “For birds in breeding condition, shown by a yellow bill, the base of the lower mandible is bluish or blue-gray in males, and pinkish in females.”  One more thing to look for!

No, they are not angels but I am learning – again – not to take them for granted. 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Not Angels”

  1. Kit McGlincheyon 08 Apr 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Good one on starlings, Kate but it’s still difficult for me to like them…

  2. Barb Simonon 16 Apr 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Yes, Starlings are noisy and they love to sit on phone wires which means that they poop on my car, but they are incredibly musical. I’ve been listening to them at my bus stop in the 3500 block of Forbes Avenue. Their music is delightful. Also, they start to sing about 5 or 5:30 every morning in summer. If you’re awake you can lie in bed and listen to them, but if ypu want to keep sleeping, turn on that big box fan to drown out the music. And one should look in the fall, as birds start congregating on the Liberty Bridge, they line up in even patterns along all the long lines of the bridge beams and create even decorative “dot” or bump patterns and visual interest. it’s very charming.

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