European starlings in non-breeding plumage

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I confess that I’m a big fan of European Starlings. They are extremely beautiful birds even if they are a nuisance in so many American cities. As pretty as they are, I can understand the motivation of the benighted fools who, about 150 years ago, thought that importing these birds from England and releasing them in New York’s Central Park would be a good idea. I’m certain that they wanted their released birds to prosper. Little did they know . . . .

Recently, I photographed one of these birds as it perched on the limbs of a dead pecan tree in southern Arizona’s farmlands. It was displaying the starling’s non-breeding winter plumage. During the winter months starlings show iridescent green on their breasts and abdomens, dappled with white spots, and beige accents on their wings. Their beaks are black.

They undergo considerable transformation in the spring and summer breeding season. The dappled plumage becomes a solid iridescent green and purple. Their beaks change color from black to yellow.

Why these birds would undergo this transformation is an excellent question. I can only speculate that, perhaps, in the distant past, a proto-starling manifested a plumage change during the breeding season that members of the opposite sex found to be attractive. Natural selection eventually accounted for all starlings undergoing this plumage change.

Images made with a Canon R5, Canon EF 400mm DO II lens+Canon EF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO) ISO 4000, f7.1 @ 1/2000, +1 2/3 stops exposure compensation.

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