Sunny with a Chance of Starlings

So, we’re driving along a local stretch of highway and I see clouds gathering in the wide blue stretch of the sky. But as we get closer, the clouds move oddly; they ebb and flow like rivers, collect tightly into spotty black pools, move around in magnetically collected groups from one hayfield to another, and expand again into writhing, twisting masses that make accordion-like progress from the highway shoulder to the grassy median. Birds. Masses of starlings having a communal day-trip in search of dinner.
Photo montage: Sunny with a Chance of Grackles

I know that they do this because of instinct and hunger and, perhaps, seasonal urges. I’ve read a little about the scientific studies indicating that a murmuration of birds flying and flocking this way has something to do with an only partially understood sensory operation or mechanism that allows the movement of one bird to affect up to six or seven concentric layers of proximal birds, and the resultant ripple effect to make the wonderfully flexible yet ultimately collective movement of such groups possible without the birds’ all exploding from the general formation into random isolation. All of this, indeed, is based on consistent and controlled observation by far more educated ornithological experts than I will ever be.

But it has a certain charm, for me, to simply keep imagining the birds peppering the sky as clouds, as mobile lakes, as little pieces of sky-high impossibility. Delight finds me, even on the highway under billowing masses of winged wonder. I’m quite happy to imagine that the whole purpose of such behavior on the starlings’ part is to amuse and please and amaze me, just me, specifically. Until a scientist can prove to my satisfaction that the truth is otherwise, I’ll stick to that. No need to spoil such a good thing with too much reality.

16 thoughts on “Sunny with a Chance of Starlings

    • Definitely awe-inspiring. I saw a small formation just this afternoon, using their collective powers to try to chase a hawk out of their territory. Amusing and magical at the same time! 🙂

  1. Fabulous Kathryn. And of course they were performing just for you! There were aome such birds performing just for me once while I was in an open-topped bus in Rome! ❤️ Happy New Year to you and yours xxx

  2. What a totally different perspective!

    Here in the Midwest, they are considered a pest such as a rat or mouse or cockroach! We had an old house and the attic had been converted into a bedroom with a crawl space for storage. Sure enough, I hear flapping in there one night, and of course, its when my husband is on duty. I tell him about it the next day. (I had thought it was a bat.) He doesn’t believe there are bats in the Midwest! LOL (He grew up in the county, I cannot believe he never saw one. I grew up in the city and saw them all the time!)

    Well, while he was up there during that day, he hears flapping. Now, it’s legitimate, of course! So, he goes into the crawl space and he finds a bird nearly dead. I first thought it was a Woodpecker as I had never seen a Starling. Well, we put the bird in a freezer bag and put it in the deep freeze so we could have it identified as some birds are protected.

    Sure enough we hear more flapping around again! This time, my husband goes on top of the house and sees they had made a whole in the roofing where they could get in but not out. So we called around to see what to do… someone came out and ID’d the bird that we had in the freezer as a Starling and said that they are considered pests and we had to have our house reroofed to fix the damage they had done to it! I felt bad because each bird that got in couldn’t get out and when we tried to get to it to catch it to let it out, it would flee from us and end up falling down the wall where we couldn’t get to it. Makes me sad still to think about it.

    It’s nice to see that they are appreciate somewhere!


    • Good grief! I can see why your affections for starlings would be…erm…limited! Pesky little creatures indeed. But I’m sometimes a bit pesky myself, so I guess I have a certain tolerance that most wouldn’t. 😉 Squirrels are our version of this bane, being not only the traditional bird-feeder pests but also chewing on our siding and scratching up our roofing, and killing a major limb on our only red oak tree by gnawing at the joint to get at its sap until it rotted and broke off there. Our arborist saved the tree, but not without some prosthetic bracing! At the same time, despite these and many other reasons I am *not* a squirrel fan, I can understand the appeal of their cleverness and agility and antics, so I have a sort of grudging detente with them. As if we needed any reminders that we are *not* the bosses of nature!!! 😀

      Blessings to you, too, Rhonda.

      • I can understand your dilemma! When we lived in the City, I had a bird feeder in the front yard. We put a squirrel baffler on the pole the feeder hung from. They are clever little critters! I watched a documentary on them on Discovery 14 years ago (my eldest grandson was a toddler then) and was just so amazed. However, I would catch them in that darn bird feeder and I would go out with a broom to chase them away. I feed them other food, leave the birds’ food alone! They waited unitl I was close enough to actually smack them before they would jump off! I saw how they managed to get past the baffler… they would get up in the bushes and jump over the baffler! So we pulled up the pole and put it out further into the yard so they couldn’t get to it! That worked! I will say, however, that the birds and squirrels in the county do not eat from the feeder that we had put out. It was quite a different dichotomy between the ‘city’ and ‘county’ critters and birds. Also, we saw those raccoons eyes in the sewer drains in the City. It was amusing, actually, Momma and her babies would watch and wait to see when it was ‘safe’ to come out and scrounge for food. And oh the skunks!! Many more in the City than the county as well! So very strange to me.

        We lost all three pine trees since we bought this house. The third one was the most devastating to me as it was a huge, knotty pine. I forget what the arborist told me what actual kind of pine it was but it was so meaningful to me that I wouldn’t let them take the whole thing down. Just the entire top to the end of where there were needles. The knotty part is still there. This is where we have trained our dog to go. The other trees had been bug infested, and I had no idea. I was just so excited to see woodpeckers in the spring and the fall on the first tree. The other two were still fine. But the first one was dead and we had it cut down. But then the next one was starting to have dead needles inappropriately and the wonderful woodpeckers would show up. If you were to go look at the tree, it is amazing what it does. The woodpecker is only after the larve of the insect, once it completes its objective, the tree fills the whole with saps to seal it. Unfortunately, the tree was infested with whatever insect it was and it ended up killing the second tree as well. But you could see that the tree was literally perforated and sap-filled. God created the tree to try to heal itself!

        We aren’t sure what caused the huge pine tree to die, but it was a major fire hazard and being that my husband is a firefighter and the pine tree was over 30′ tall and every needle was dead orange tinder and next to power lines, we had to have it removed. This was when we found out that the 3 trees in our front yard are Ash trees! And all around us is the Emerald Ash Borer! So far, the trees didn’t appear to be affected yet, so we had them treat them. We also have a beautiful Sugar Maple in the back yard that turns a brilliant orange in the fall for only a few days and then there is a blanket of beautiful orange leaves, and then its all dried up. We have more trees that I thought! There is one right in front of the house that had a squirrel making the strangest sound and for days after we moved in, I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. (My daughter was living on a hobby farm with a pong and had wood ducks that actually lived in the trees… so I thought where is this duck at?) One day, I went into the spare bedroom and our cat was lying in the window just swinging his tail in contentment. I looked and THERE was that sound! A squirrel was yelling at the cat from the tree! I had never heard that sound from a squirrel! LOL So much learning no matter how old we are!
        Thankfully your tree was spared! Arborists are the best to have come. We had bids on having our trees trimmed, and it was the last bid that was an arborist who told me so much about my trees! THEY got the job!

        Thank you for sharing your stories and reading mine, Kathryn!


        • Oh, dear; so sorry about your suffering trees! It was the three oaks and two flowering pears that ‘sold us’ this house, and I’d be heartbroken if they were all under such attack. Even though there’s a whole ravine full of trees directly behind our property, it wouldn’t be the same at all if the trees in our own yard weren’t there to shade and comfort us. Yes, a good arborist is a great friend to have!! Now, if we could just train squirrels to act as guardians for the bird feeders and to tend the trees, somehow…. 😉

        • So very well stated! I so miss my pine tress, but I do not miss the pine needles nor the pine cones.

          I do so love the Sugar Maple that is still in the back yard. I can only enjoy it from the kitchen window mostly as I am disabled and the weather must be just ‘right’ for me to go out on the deck. I hope to do it more this year.

          Our front yard has more trees and sadly dying plants that we are unable to tend to as neither of us are gardeners nor do we want to be. When we had the front redone, the landscaper (was a man on my husband’s hockey team that does commercial properties primarily) asked about plants, I told him I want a NO MAINTENANCE garden. He said, Low maintenance? I said, “No, NO MAINTENANCE.” Neither of us are home enough to tend to it nor do we have the knowledge to distinguish between a weed and a plant. We have no idea what to do when fall arrives, when winter arrives, and what to do in spring. For me, plant fake plants! Put some lovely bark around and be done. I wanted a fountain in the center that would perhaps attract birds but that was turned down. So now we have a lovely brick wall filled with dying flowers and bushes. There is a lovely tree that was young and is thriving. We do not water. God waters. My favorite plant is the variegated drat, the name just escaped me. But it is very hearty and very common and has a broad leaf and I have them on the north side of my deck as I had them relocate them rather than just haul them away. I despise day lilies and have them along the length of my deck and they are spiteful and will not be killed no matter what I do! And for now, I cannot do anything so they can have their way. I’m still trying to think of the name of that variegated plant! Drat I hate this short-term memory problem I have! I know you will know the plant I am talking about! Oak trees are quite valuable, however, the most valuable ones are hickory and there were several on my daughter’s former hobby farm. Had they just sold those trees, they would have made a lot of money! Behind us is an enormous river willow. They say they planted it as a twig. It is well above their 2 story house by at least 2 stories! This is the tree that the Great Horned Owl flew to whilst being chased by several small black birds in the afternoon! He stood a majestic 3+ feet tall and it was a once in a lifetime sight! 🙂

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