The other day I noticed a commotion from the top branches of a sugar maple here in southeast Michigan. At first it just sounded like random bird chatter, but then I noticed distinct calls from several different species. When I looked up I only saw a few of these European starlings (Passeriformes: Sturnidae: Sturnus vulgaris). Intrigued, I continued to watch them for several minutes and noticed they were mimicking the calls of a variety of different birds.
I’ve witnessed the myriad calls of northern mockingbirds (Passeriformes: Mimidae: Mimus polyglottos) but I was surprised to see another local species capable of the same feat. Although I’ve been more impressed with the range of mockingbirds, these starlings were still rather incredible.
Introduced from Europe in the late 19th century, starlings have a bad reputation for being exceedingly common and aggressive. Just today I watched one raiding a birdhouse full of sparrows, causing a serious ruckus. Starlings are known to drive other birds off of prime nesting areas, and females sometimes practice intraspecific brood parasitism. These females will lay their eggs in the nests of other starlings, and may even remove some of the host birds’ eggs in the process. The host birds then have the burden of rearing the newly emplaced young.