Starlings are wonderful birds – take a look at one and they just look superb. But they sing too, often while waving their wings in a motion similar to a butterfly-stroke swimmer. Can you sing and wave your arms about? Maybe, now try it perched on a telephone wire!
It’s a strange song, in some ways a something-and-nothing of a song. But heard while watching the bird windmilling its wings and puffing out its throat feathers it seems pretty good.
This one is from Luxembourg:
And here’s one from Berlin, Germany:
And another from surrey, UK:
Whistles and clicks, whistles and clicks, often with a long modulated whistle and periods of multiple clicks. I know what it sounds like but I find it hard to describe, and sometimes I pause for a moment when I hear one sing before thinking ‘Of course, a Starling’.
But one of the things about Starlings is that they are great mimics. I have walked down the street and hear a Curlew call , only to look up and see a Starling on a TV aerial being that Curlew. Fooled again! But where did the starling learn that call – not on my street!
If I am to record Green Woodpecker for the day on my lockdown garden list I have to persuade myself that it isn’t really one of the local Starlings doing the yaffle call – they are very good at it and I hear Starling-woodpeckers more often than I hear Woodpecker-woodpeckers!
Shakespeare knew of mimicry in the Starling as he gets Hotspur to say:
He said he would not ransom Mortimer, Forbad my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he lies asleep, And in his ear I’ll hollo “Mortimer.”
Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak Nothing but “Mortimer,” and give it him To keep his anger still in motion.https://www.sparknotes.com/nofear/shakespeare/henry4pt1/page_43/ Henry IV, pt1
Here are some examples of Starlings being mimics. This first one is a very convincing Blackbird but there is also Swallow, GS Woodpecker, Golden Oriole and Swallow in there according to the recorder of the song:
This one is being a (Red?) Kite and a Buzzard :
Here is a Starling being a Common Rosefinch:
And here is another, from Norway, being, it seems to me, a Lapwing, a car alarm, a Blackbird and maybe a dog as well as lots of other unrecognisable, unguessable things too:
Impressive! If you can pinch all those songs from others then maybe you don’t need much more than clicks and whistles of your own.
But why mimic? and how are the mimicked songs learned, and where? I’d quite like to know, but I can listen in awe whether I know or not.