We spent the fall and winter collecting genetic data from our modern (airport) specimens. Now we can spend time this spring watching the starlings behave. In early April, I started noticing more starlings on the museum lawn. Now, they are everywhere. Their beaks are yellow, their plumage is getting shinier, and they are pecking furiously at the grass. Grackles, pigeons, sparrows, and robins are out there too. But starlings are unmistakable, even from a distance, with their long legs and distinct gait. They look more comfortable walking on the ground than some other birds. They are at my bus stop in the morning, and again when I arrive at the museum. Sometimes they fly alongside the moving bus. They sport triangular wings while in flight and, needless to say, move much faster than the bus.
Their plumage changes with the seasons. It is not a color change though, it is a shedding of the little light colored bits on the ends of their winter feathers. Then, for the breeding season, they are ready to strut around in their more flashy iridescent feathers. Their beaks turn from brown in fall to yellow in spring. I always cherish the onset of spring, but it is my first year really noticing the starling’s seasonal transition, which —just like the warmth and the blossoms—is predictable and comforting and totally marvelous.
*I need a new starling picture for my blog header, send me your pics of spring starlings!*
image from animals.nationalgeographic.com