Teenage starlings

An extended family of starlings blew in with Monday’s gale.

The clan includes a number of juveniles — one can tell from their grayish-brown color, slightly smaller and plumper stature and behavior.

These young starlings behave like some teenagers you may know. They constantly demand to be fed. When not demanding to be fed, they are eating. They cluster in groups, awkwardly bumping into each other and stumbling over each other. They are very noisy. They ride around the deck on skateboards.

I made up that last sentence.

The main target for the adults is the suet cake. Now that the woodpeckers have gotten it started, the older starlings are finding it a little easier to get at the suet, and its size is decreasing rapidly. The younger starlings aren’t quite getting the hang of it, so they just keep begging.

Starlings aren’t my favorite birds, but they are smart and fascinating to watch, particularly in smaller numbers.

On a warmer day recently, I was sitting on the deck reading. An adult starling perched on the apple tree and gave me its repertoire of songs, squawks and various other sounds. It was really quite a concert. It never seemed to repeat itself.

It reminded me of Mozart’s pet starling, which was able to sing a theme from Mozart’s Piano Concerto in G — albeit the starling sang it in G sharp.

Starlings singing Mozart? Hummingbirds that hum because they don’t know the words? Send your bird observations and pictures to me at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.


Food, glorious food

Mealworms were in short supply earlier this year, but Wild Birds Unlimited has them now.

I bought a tub of 500 mealworms on Friday, and put a couple of spoonsful of them in the mealworm tray — complete with a little roof — on my deck.

I know the chickadees will be pleased, although as far as I can tell they haven’t discovered the mealworms yet.

So this is my present menu for birds that choose to come to my backyard:

  • SAFFLOWER. I always have safflower. It’s in a tube feeder and a tray feeder.WHAT’S EATING IT — Mostly chickadees, house finches and, I think, a pair of purple finches. It’s going slowly, which is OK. Safflower isn’t cheap.
  • NECTAR. The nectar (a home brew: four parts water, one part sugar) is in an oriole feeder and a hummingbird feeder. WHAT’S EATING IT — Nothing but insects. A lone hummingbird was feeding regularly until the crabapple trees and lilacs blossomed, then it left me.
  • GRAPE JELLY. It’s in the oriole feeder, watered down for bird consumption. WHAT’S EATING IT — A house finch, or possibly a purple finch, is a big fan. Last year, a couple of catbirds thrived on the grape jelly. I haven’t seen them yet this year, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been hearing a catbird in the neighborhood.
  • NYJER. Nothing is eating the nyjer (aka thistle), a contrast to the winter when I couldn’t keep up with ravenous redpolls. I had three nyjer feeders out then, just one now. A couple of weeks ago a cluster of some sort of finches briefly went after the nyjer, then they quickly disappeared.
  • SUET. I don’t usually have suet out in the summer. I took the suet log down, but I’ve got a suet cake hanging in a place that discourages squirrels and frustrates starlings. WHAT’S EATING IT — A downy woodpecker and/or a hairy woodpecker; sometimes I have a hard time telling them apart. They come several times a day, but never stay long. The starlings still try to get some.
  • MILLET. This is going fastest. I spread a little out on the deck and a little in a tray feeder each morning. WHAT’S EATING IT — At least one pair of chipping sparrows. Oddly, I haven’t had any other kinds of sparrows in my yard so far this year. The chipping sparrows are consistent visitors and fun to watch. Pigeons get some, too.

What are you feeding the birds? What are they eating? Your bird observations and pictures are always welcome at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Mystery tune

With a couple of friends, I hiked the Twin Lakes Trail near Silver Bay on Wednesday. Great weather, great trail, great companionship, great hike.

No birds.

None that I could see, anyway. I heard birds often, and many were singing the same song. These birds taunted me, practically singing in my ear. But no matter how much I stared, they stayed hidden in the leaves.

If my ear for bird songs weren’t so abysmal, I would be able to tell you what kind of bird it was. I can’t even describe the song to you. It reminded me a little of a birdy version of a phrase from Mendelssohn’s "Midsummer Night’s Dream," but that’s probably not helpful.

I listened to some of my "Birds of Minnesota" CD today, and I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that I was hearing yellow-rumped warblers. But I wouldn’t put any money on that.

The interesting thing about the hike was that it was my first look at the impact of the March 23 ice storm in Lake County. Birch trees were down, or bent over, everywhere in the woods. The trail must have been a mess. But it’s all clear now. The Superior Hiking Trail volunteers are a splendid lot.

Your bird observations and pictures are always welcome: jlundy@duluthnews.com