While driving past a country dairy farm, I noticed a large flock of black starlings in the feedlot. There were around 100 of them scurrying around on the ground, poking their long yellow beaks in the hay and frozen cow pies. None of them were just standing around; they all looked very busy. Their prize is the seed from the hay and other weeds, and bits of undigested grain in the pies. To them, it doesn't get any better, especially when there is a nice safe place to roost at night in the lean-to. They eat and sleep together in a common sense of community. Together they think as one, letting their instincts guide them.
As rough as it has been this winter, I wouldn't have expected to see so many starlings in the area. Historically, most of them fly south for the winter. I know they have a lower tolerance to cold, having picked up six fat, frozen starlings from under the birdfeeder some 15 years ago. That morning the thermometer read minus 54 degrees. All the wild birds survived just fine, except for the six starlings. As long as they can gather in a flock and have a source of food, water and shelter, they do just fine in the winter. Another reason to suspect they have a low cold tolerance is seeing them standing on the edge of a chimney soaking up the rising heat. It surely must feel good, but it can be fatal, as the starling becomes asphyxiated and falls down the chimney.
The climate where the starlings originally came from (England) is a bit more mild than Wisconsin in the winter. They arrived in the United States in 1890, when 60 were released in Central Park. Since then, they have appeared virtually anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. Now that's prolific. It seems that the more humans prosper, so do the starlings.
Over the years I have come to respect the starlings, and I have learned a lot from them. They are here to stay. I have seen autumn starling roosts that have thousands of them. They slowly gather before migration, as their flock swells a little more each day. Then, like Red-winged blackbirds, they're gone.
Unfortunately, the starling has been labeled a bandit—rightfully—for the mischief he makes. He gives other cavity-nesting birds a rough time when it comes to securing a place to lay their 6 to 8 pale blue eggs. In the South, the starlings are credited with damaging commercial fruit crops. Of course the birds think the crops were planted there for them, and so they are always in conflict with the humans.
After a two-month freeze, the weather has broken and a thaw has finally begun to melt the ice on the river. It's good to see the sunlight dancing across the moving water again, as the ice slowly fades away. A slow melt is what we need to avoid the chances of a spring flood. If all goes well, the rest of February will be warm, and the snow and ice will gradually recede.
It only took a few days of warm temperatures to melt the snow on the south facing slopes, exposing bare earth underneath. The deer are taking advantage of these snowless areas, finding grass and other edibles. The deer gather in groups of 10 to 20 where there are patches of grass and alfalfa to eat. Things are looking up at last and spring is growing closer with each passing day. A male Cardinal agreed with me this morning, as he whistled his favorite song. "Cheery, cheer, cheer, cheer,"—spring is finally here!
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