‘You fly back to school, now, little Starling. Fly, fly, fly…’

Introduced in the 1890s as part of an attempt to bring to the New World all the birds of Shakespeare, the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is considered one of the most problematic invasive species in the U.S. given its proclivity to multiply uncontrollably and swarm in vast numbers.  They readily drive out native species with their superior aggression and overwhelming murmurations[1].

Yet as I recently commented to Pam, Texas tends to see none of the massive starling invasions experienced in places like New England.

Why is that?

I pointed out in my comment that starlings represent a very small fraction of the bird population here in Texas, at least here at White Rock Lake where I live.  What I didn’t mention are the various reasons why that fact remains true despite the species’ ability to engulf an area and devastate native bird populations.

For starters, our native bird population includes some rather large and aggressive species, not the least of which is the great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)[2].  More than twice the size of a starling, a single grackle can displace a number of these European invaders.  And our local population of grackles tends to be massive at least.

Another important inhabitant of these parts is fourfold, and all are powerful predators: Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii), peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus), American kestrels (Falco sparverius), and red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis).  The lake supports a healthy population of all four.  With year round avian life and an explosion of winter visitors, accipiters do quite well here keeping the local food sources in check.  That includes starlings, especially when they attempt to grow their numbers—making them easy prey to winged killers.

What I believe to be the most important factor in keeping starlings in check, however, is the weather.  Native to those parts of Europe where the weather tends to be more temperate than it is so near the equator, Texas lacks the atmospheric support starlings need to thrive.  In simpler terms, it’s too hot here for more than a regular yet small population.

Nevertheless, European starlings are constant companions around these parts.  At least they are if you watch for them and know how to recognize them.  Without the considerable numbers they enjoy elsewhere, here they tend to blend into the background cacophony of avian inhabitants.

A European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) perched in a tree

I’ve yet to capture a respectable image of a starling simply because they represent a tiny fraction of the life I see on a daily basis.  But I still see them and try to photograph them on a regular basis.

A European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) perched in a tree

And that even if it’s only in silhouette.

A European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) in silhouette

Living in the Lone Star State, I will never be able to photograph or capture video of the mind-numbing murmurations of starlings seen elsewhere, though that doesn’t mean I won’t see them at all.  I just have to pay special attention to their muted presence.

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[1] ‘Murmuration’ is the word used to describe a group of starlings, like ‘gaggle’ for geese and ‘murder’ for crows.

[2] Other avian species which outnumber and outgun the starlings are northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) and the common raven (Corvus corax), to name a few.

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