Apr 08 2009
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)