Starlings may have pretty plumage, but have long been considered pests – and if you doubt that, just ask Harry Hotspur. The Shakespearean hothead is as famously antagonistic toward the crown as he is persistent, qualities he imagines a starling “be[ing] taught to speak Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’” to a frustrated Henry IV, reminding him of Hotspur and Mortimer’s rebellion against him to “keep his anger still in motion.”
Why is that important? Because in the late 1800s a massive Shakespeare fanatic named Eugene Schieffelin decided to bring every bird in Shakespeare’s works to America. And so, because of that one passage for 1 Henry IV, the only time starlings appear in Shakespeare’s plays, 60 imported starlings exploded to a present population of around 200 million.
So if you live in America and have ever seen a starling here, you have Shakespeare and Schieffelin to thank – or blame.
Chances are you don’t like starlings enough to populate part of an entire continent with them based on a single line from one of Shakespeare’s plays. Still, if you are looking to attract a few starlings to your yard, these starling-friendly steps can do just that.
1 – Musical Bonds
Shakespeare may have invoked starlings for their reputation for mimicry and pestering nature, but Mozart saw them quite differently.
In April 1784, Mozart completed his Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, two months before he would debut it to the world, when he purchased a starling. Mozart records in his notebooks how he attempted to get the bird to sing the part of its third movement back to him, recording both how he had composed the tune and how the starling sang it. So well beloved was Mozart’s musical mate that when the starling died three years later, he composed a short silly elegy for it.
The lesson here? While Mozart obviously didn’t catch his starling in the wild, he found a way to connect with its powers of mimicry, and you can too. If you notice a starling in your yard, interacting with it in a musical or otherwise social manner might not be the worst way to get it to stick around – especially if you have some treats to give it as well.
2. Eliminating Threats
Of course, your starling guests aren’t going to feel like staying around if they’re being chased out of the yard by your cat. Even if you don’t have one, however, starlings are still susceptible to non-lethal ways of warding off birds by frightening them, namely fake owls, snakes, scarecrows, and similar items.
They may be useful at keeping other birds at bay, but if you want starlings to pay you a visit, you may need to take these down before they’ll pop by.
3. Set up a Proper Bird Feeder
Once you have removed the reasons for starlings to stay away from your home, you’ll want to put up an incentive for them to come. A lot of this will have to do with food, which we’ll get into in a minute, but first, you need to be able to make sure that food is accessible to the starling.
You may like the idea of feeding a starling out of your hand as though you’re a Disney Princess. If we’re honest, starlings will often just scavenge food off the floor. But for the best chance of getting a starling to notice food and have them stay long enough for you to interact with them, let alone to make sure they keep coming back, you’ll want to build a proper bird feeder.
That said, different bird feeders are engineered to suit different types of birds. Starlings can bully away smaller birds, so smaller bird feeders may be too small for them and simply lead to fighting. You’ll thus want to build a larger feeder that has plenty of room for the starlings.
Bird feeders with tubular designs are especially good as they can allow several different starlings to eat at different points around the cylindrical shape. You may also choose to build a more conventional bird feeder with a single feeding area.
Either way, you’ll want to hang your new bird feeder from a tree branch, above your porch, or a similar location that’s perched several feet above the ground. You may also want to install a bird bath there as well (or, if you already have one, then you also already have a natural location for your new bird feeder).
Wherever you hang the bird feeder, make sure that it’s tucked away from any predators and is highly peaceful. Starlings like to stay and roost with their young, especially during winter, and they won’t do that if the branches around them are constantly being disturbed.
Finally, starlings often sleep in late (lucky birds!), so make sure that you fill the feeder with enough food so that even if earlier birds get the worm (or, in this case, bird feed), there’s still some left over for the starlings.
4. Choose the Right Food
Finally, you’ll want to choose the right food for your starlings. You can think of this as an exercise in reading how to get rid of starlings, which foods such articles say not to give out lest they come, and then do the opposite.
For example, starlings love cracked corn. If you want to get rid of starlings, you’d better not have any laying around – and if you want to attract them, have it in abundance. Sunflower kernels are another favorite because, like cracked corn, the seeds are often already cracked open, which makes things easier on their small, pointy bills.
Suet and millet are also favorites.
Birds never do turn down a good wormy meal, so dried mealworms can be an option to present this to starlings without filling your bird feeder with live wriggling worms.
Other favorites include nyjer and safflower seeds, nectar, and of course table scraps.
Follow these steps, and you’ll attract starlings to your yard like a pied piper, Magic Flute and all!