EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)
The European starling, an Old World passerine, is about 20 cm long (8 in.) and is black but with small light stripes and an iridescent plumage, in the green and purple range. This bird is very social and some flocks can contain thousands, even millions of them!
They will then put on a spectacular show called ‘murmuration’, a unique display of evolving aerial shapes in the sky as they change direction en masse while flying. Many photos and videos are available online illustrating this phenomenon, more frequent in the fall and before sunset, before roosting for the night.
There is one such large group under the Hillsborough bridge in Charlottetown. The most frequent explanation to this behavior is protection from predators. However on the flip side it’s a risk to aircraft – and for drivers on the Hillsborough bridge, a distraction.
Starlings can be beneficial when eating insects, but less so when they eat seeds, grain or fruits, so they can cause considerable damage to crops. Starlings will use various structures to build their nests, including a rural mail box. One morning when I picked up my mail from a rural road mailbox, I found a blue starling egg instead of mail inside, and there was a nest built at the deeper end of the mailbox.
Starlings are curious and I had also some that would fall down the chimney and end up four stories below inside the wood stove (outside the heating season). Starlings have adapted very well to urban environments and sometimes dozens of them are seen neatly aligned on electrical wires along roads.
This video below shows a starling murmuration above the Hillsborough bridge on Dec. 27, 2014: