Bluebirds, starlings and sparrows line up atop the fence outside my window, anxiously jockeying to see who will take over the fixer-upper mounted atop the fence post at the far end. The starling tries to bully his way to head of the line, but will lose the contest, because he’s too big to get through the hole, but he’s sure making life miserable for the others.
They’re an invasive species, these starlings. On the other hand, I’m a member of the most invasive species on the planet, if only because, unlike species that have to search out habitats they can live in, we humans can shape the habitat to suit our needs.
We have staked our turf with housing developments tattooed with streets named for the trees and critters we pushed aside to make room for us, the way early European humans did the “Indians” they found already living here.
Which is how starlings came to be here in the first place. About 100 of them were brought from Britain by folks who enjoyed Shakespeare plays performed in New York’s Central Park and who wanted to see all the birds mentioned in the bard’s verses.
Starlings share at least two human traits. They are very flexible in habitat selection, and they are prolific breeders. Each breeding pair can birth one to two clutches per year, with four to six eggs each. Starlings enjoy more than three years life expectancy, so, like humans, the new generation may be producing offspring before the previous generation is done with that activity.
Now the rascals number north of 200 million birds, devouring backyard bird feed, turning the tops of winter-nuded trees black with roosting birds, and, when the urge strikes them, murmurating those graceful sweeping celestial patterns reminiscent of the constantly flowing lines that once were common Windows screensavers. How do they keep from crashing into each other? (Some scientists are looking into that.)
They can overwhelm the food supply of other critters wild and domestic. They’ve been known to overwhelm jet engines. Over the years we seem to have learned how to keep them away from the intakes of passenger planes, but I do remember when a flock of starlings took down a jet on takeoff from Boston’s Logan Airport.
I guess we are stuck with the starlings, until another invader comes along to squeeze them out.
Meanwhile, Mourning Doves and Gray Squirrels share the carpet of seeds below the feeder. Blue Jays and House Sparrows look at first to be messy eaters, but I prefer to believe they deliberately scatter seeds to the ground for the squirrels and lesser avian riffraff that otherwise would not be invited to the repast.
I have placed a shield on the feeder post to prevent squirrels climbing up and lying lengthwise on the seed tray, inhaling the food supply while reclining like drunken Roman noblemen in old paintings.
Soon there will be a robin nest in the cherry tree. Maybe a new family of bluebirds in one of the houses mounted on trees at the edge of the wood.
There is a dead oak near the sharply defined boundary between the grass land and the woodland. It is broken off some 30 feet up; a family of flickers usually takes up residence in the hollowed trunk.
I am rejuvenated, from my elevated chronological perspective, in watching a new generation take its place in the world we share. It is good to know that this was here long before we arrived and, our fences of No Trespassing signs notwithstanding, promises to be here long after we depart.
4 thoughts on “Avian invasion”
Great column – much enjoyed and I appreciate the
Thank you, Doug.
Thank you, John. Great avian observations, with some fodder for reflection, as well.