Well, two, actually. Plus one egg on the right, and minus one egg that was tossed out by the parents the other day. A small brood, then, with tiny little peeps and a very protective mother bird.
On the left is a bird nest box that was occasionally used, but rarely occupied (and generally looking the same). On the right is the same nest box the next day, occupied by a pair of European Starlings. We’ve heard that Starlings can build nests in as little as three days; always cool to see it first hand.
We’ve been trying to be scientific regarding the collection of data this year around. Certainly, more data points will be gathered next year, but for now, it’s enough to record:
- Number of eggs visible in nest
- Whether the nest was occupied by a bird prior to the day’s count
- Whether a European Starling “Alert” sound (single, sharp chirp at short 3-5 second intervals) is given in response to our presence.
Part of the goal is to gauge when incubation starts. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there regarding this, without any references to data sources. Call us amateur statisticians with a thing for birds!
Additional data points
To be considered for future recordings:
- If the nest is occupied by one, or two birds prior to inspection.
- If an egg is found broken and discarded outside of the nest.
- Approximate percentage of nest material (to gauge nest building and deconstruction).
- If building materials include any greenery or berries (often used to decorate and attract).
- How many hatched baby birds there are (to gauge any deaths, forbid).
- The actual damn number of the nest, written in permanent marker on the inside of the nest box, so that we’re not overwhelmed looking at pictures wondering, “which nest was this one?”
“Bucket list” bonus goal:
- Post a picture of our faces and put it inside of one of the nests (on the side) so that, perhaps, the birds will also recognize us to some degree. Foolish fantasy, we say, but perhaps someday…
We have a theory regarding winter nest selection by European Starlings. What we’ve noticed is that a nest put up during winter (November thru January) is poked, prodded, sampled, and in short, of extreme curiosity to European Starlings. But they seem to not want to use it; perhaps they have already selected a nest for the winter and are just investigating this newfound object.
However, while nests put up in the late fall (September, October) are subjected to the same intense scrutiny by European Starlings, these tend to be the nests that are selected for permanent residence during the winter months.
Construction of cedar nest boxes becomes somewhat of a struggle, since we’ve had birds abandon nests even if, from the opposite end of the yard, we use a circular saw to cut the boards. Sensitivity is key, and perhaps part of why they survive so well (i.e., “Fool me once, and I’m outta here…”). This would suggest a need to build the nests about 1-2 months after they are abandoned after the second round of baby birds hatching/fledging. In the Pacific Northwest, this translates to approximately mid-July/August.
Being familiar with the sounds of these little darlings makes one keenly aware when they are not in the neighborhood. We’ve put nests in certain areas with no results, and upon reflection, we never heard the birds in the area before. European Starlings seem to prefer an elevation of around 400 feet above sea level; anything 800 feet or above we haven’t seen or heard a peep from them. It could be a preference for more urban areas, however. This is all guesswork, but certainly a curiousity.
We now have a total of four European Starling Nest Boxes set up around the property, all at a distance from each other. They are appropriately named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. And, as mentioned previously, we’re both delighted and surprised that winter visitors continue to maintain occupancy.
Alpha Nest Box: Two continuous occupants, both very suspicious of us and the first thing we see upon arrival home. They’ve cleared out the majority of the cedar shavings, which we found out is a good way to track how often any given nest is being “checked out” (they like to remove it and scatter it outside of the nest on the ground; a good visual cue). We originally intended it for winter warmth and possible soiling prevention; we were wrong on both counts for Starlings, it would seem.
Beta Nest Box: A single solitary European Starling has resided in this nest box all winter. He’s completely removed the cedar shavings. During the day, several visitors inspect the nest, but it always ends up with just one occupant (perhaps the same one, not yet pair bonded).
Gamma Nest Box: This one has an entrance hole on the side, so it’s a bit more difficult to take a flash photo. Using a flashlight through the entrance hole, the camera can take a picture through a small 1/2″ hole on the perpendicular side. We’re sure the birds are just delighted at this sort of human behavior, and they tolerate it well. Absolutely no remaining cedar shavings for bedding. If you look closely, you can see in the back the removable piece of wood for ventilation during the summer use.
Delta Nest Box: Currently unoccupied, and a bit higher up (thus the odd camera angle). Some cedar shavings are removed, and as it’s next to the side of the house, we can hear the poke, poke sounds as the birds investigate it each morning. However, as of yet, it’s not a permanent residence.
If all goes as planned, it should be a great place for new nestlings, as well as the sounds of little babies as they hatch and grow up. It’s part of the charm, we feel, of early summer!
Well, not necessarily a chart per-se, but this allows us to plan. Raising a baby bird requires a lot of time and dedication, and European Starlings are no exception. What follows is just our experience; I’m certain that there are various factors and YMMV. However, it helps to have a frame of reference.
Initial Real Estate
The male European Starling will start finding it’s preferred nest to claim. Here in the Pacific Northwest, this generally means around mid-February. The male will put assorted materials in the nest and occasionally hang certain yard findings out of the opening as if to announce the open house. He will then start to perch near the nest, singing and flapping his wings, in an attempt to attract a mate.
Once a female has been attracted, some form of unspoken contract is made and both claim the nest as their own. The female will then, in a very poetic twist of fate, start removing some or all of the interior furnishings in order to make sure that it is her nesting material that is used. This year, we plan to use cedar shavings in the nest ahead of time to help soak up some of the droppings; something we’ve previously done for winter weatherization; it should be interesting to see what, if any, will remain. This generally happens in mid-to-late March in our neck of the woods.
Eggs are laid in the nest, one egg per day, at approximately the same time. Generally speaking, a total of 4-5 glossy, pale blue eggs are laid. European Starlings know to limit/adjust their body coverage (heat) over the eggs to help prevent incubating the eggs in sequence; this way, all the eggs will hatch at the same time (plus or minus a day). Approximately early April, with a repeat performance of this and the further steps in late May.
Once the final egg is laid, the eggs will receive regular rotation by the parents and they will start applying full coverage and heat. They will do this consistently for approximately 11 to 13 days.
Egg Hatching (aka “Day 1”)
We’ll call this “Day 1” for reference. The babies will be born with their eyes closed shut and will remain this way through Day 6. They will be totally dependent on the parents for food and warmth. Mom and Dad will alternate feeding and take out “poop sacks” from the babies as they fly out of the nest (dropping them along the flight path out of the nest). Note to self: Time to move the cars.
Imprinting (Days 7-14)
If you are planning on adopting a European Starling, this is the time to do it. Once their eyes open, the visual imprinting begins. The earlier, the better. Now the real work begins. They need to be fed every 20-30 minutes during the day for a minimum of 12 hours per day.
Some Feathers / Fully Feathered (Day ??)
Once they start growing some feathers, you can reduce the feeding to every 45 minutes. As soon as they are fully feathered, you can reduce feeing to every 1-2 hours. There will be some overlap with the following stages.
Playing, Exploring (Day 18)
Around this time period, they will start to want to cautiously explore their surroundings. Introduce them to their toys and the areas of the house that you will be keeping them in. Lock up the cats, because the next stage is a doozy (see next stage, below).
Flying (Day 21)
They grow up so quickly. Be prepared to be amazed. If you’ve done a good job of interacting with them, they will have bonded with you and will fly to you if encouraged. The image below was just prior to his taking flight.
Food Delivery Change & Water (Day 28 / Week 4)
One should never feed a baby bird water directly. They’re not prepared for it and it can actually kill them (the mechanics are unknown to us), and they get the moisture from the soft food mixes that are their meals. However they can now have their baby food available from a bowl, as long as you continue to hand feed them. You can also provide a small bowl of water.
Independent Feeding (Weeks 6-10)
While they are still eating the baby formula, they can now eat independently on their own (we’ll write about this later on, because normal bird diets purchased from the stores won’t be adequate for their health and nutrition needs). This stage varies greatly between weeks 6-10, so your baby might need a longer period of time before they are ready for independent feeding. You’ll still see some begging for being fed; you can indulge them to some degree still, however don’t hand feed them unless asked by them.
Molting (8 weeks)
Your babies will start to grow out their new feathers around this stage.
Adult Diet (9-13 weeks)
You can switch them to their adult diet at this stage. The rule of thumb we’ve used is to begin when they’ve been eating independently for at least three weeks).
Talking (15-30 weeks)
You will be surprised at what they will begin to start saying. Don’t be deceived; they’ve been listening to you all this time and have selected what they consider to be their “flock song”. They may make general bird noises; they may mimic the TV or you or your partner.
Fully Adult Feathers (20 weeks)
A magnificent transformation will occur. The picture below is only a partial change in feathers; we’ll get a better one next time around.