Starlings in Winter – Photo Studio Introduction


European Starling

Studded in stars, flecked in gold and an ode to winter. A poem says it so well.


Starling from the Back

Noisy starlings are a thing of beauty in flight en masse. They soar as one, like bees in swarm. As individuals they are fat and clumsy looking, like a few bees. Yet as a flock, they are graceful performance masters. Purposeful flying that leaves you wondering how they know when to turn and dip.


Starling on a Branch

They are not very tolerant of each other where a suet feeder hangs. They seem quite greedy and not willing to share. Want to see angry birds?


Starlings Fighting

A poem by Mary Oliver made me think about this bird in a more gracious light dressed in winter finery. The link takes you to The Writer’s Almanac that has permission to print the poem.

The poem does not describe the combative nature of the bird, but through metaphor, imagery, and careful choice of word, the poem gives the bird some dignity and charm, showing skillful grace as they dip and dive across the sky. It also makes parallels to living life.


Starlings in Battle

Or you can hear it read by Garrison Keillior here. Go to 2:29 in the podcast.


Starlings in Aggressive Display

The poem has a feel of hope and optimism springing from one’s despair. The poem reveals a shift from chunkiness to grace, from grief to an intense optimistic feeling, and from improbable to assured. Is that not what we want for this New Year?


Starling Portrait

Up next in the series, Blue Jays in Winter. The family born here last summer sees its first snowfall.

Learn the Tips for Yourself

The image above and below, each on the branch, is from a series of posts I am doing on creating a backyard birding/photography studio. You can see the bird is isolated from a background without distraction. This is one of the tricks used by nature photographers.


Starling on a Branch

After I feature a few of the more interesting birds that visit the garden, the series will start with what to plant and why it is important to the wildlife. Getting them there and making them feel safe is a key component to any backyard birding habitat. It is a key to photographs too.

Just placing a feeder is not enough if you literally want hundreds and hundreds of birds. Also it helps with variety and species of birds. But we do need feeding stations if we want to attract them initially, whether commercial seed or seed from live plants.


Pretty Starling

The next step is setting up feeding stations, but in a very deliberate way. What to feed or plant is listed by the bird that you desire to attract. Where to place it is critical to the photograph. For instance, the starlings pictured are fond of animal protein, hence the suet. Being omnivores, they will also eat fruit, grains, and seed.

Then we start shaping our plants and creating places where we choose for the birds to land, like in the images in this post. Shaping the scene makes the images a bit better and also much easier to capture the subject.

This series is based on winter feeding, but I will do a similar series on attracting birds in summer by the plants within the garden. The photo studio has some changes for the season.


Starling Landing

I will be going away shortly, but will have many of these posts uploaded before then. If you are interested in photographing your birds in portraiture, in action, or just taking a break, just stop back for some helpful tips I learned from one of the most well-known and published nature photographers on the planet.

You will be amazed at how simple it is to capture these shots. I will tell you what lens I used and how far it is to my subjects. Also, I will include camera settings, but realize they change on the quality of light in the environment.

Photographing birds is all about fun and pleasure. I never understood the hobby of bird watching. It just seemed too passive, but photographing them leads to a lot of learning. Not that bird watching is without learning your subject, but I think photographing them leads to a more intimate association. And to find them requires learning about them. Many bird watchers also photograph, but many of them it is more for documentation. I do it for the art, whether painting or photographing. I cannot bird count here because of the vast number of birds I get, but I do note the varieties.


Starling in Winter Snow

Learning and observing bird habits really enhances your chance of good photos. Creating the proper habitat makes for a sure thing.

Another thing that photos do is catch expressions and actions too fast to see. That is why I enjoy the hobby. If you want to learn all you want to know about starlings see Living With Wildlife or Cornell’s All About Birds. In an upcoming post on knowing your subject, I will show the books I reference.


Starlings’ Wing Display

Most of you don’t want starlings at your feeders, but I don’t mind. My yard services hundreds of birds so I have no problem sharing. The more, the merrier.

I hope you engage in this interesting hobby and stop back to see how to make the hobby a bit more fun and easy. My New Years wish next!

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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71 Responses to Starlings in Winter – Photo Studio Introduction

  1. A.M.B. says:

    Gorgeous! It’s lovely to see the subtle purple, blue, and green on their feathers! Bird watching is passive, but that’s part of the joy of it for me. It’s an opportunity to relax.

    • There are a few bird watching groups here in our area, yet I have never had the time to join. They go to parks that I have never been and would very much like to. I talked with a group member in PA and he thought I would love to join their group. They visit many places with raptors. I said that might be a bit of a drive!

  2. While starlings aren’t my favorite bird, I gained new admiration for them in watching the Youtube videos of large flocks (murmurations!) of starlings flying in unison in Scotland. Absolutely breathtaking.

    Your photos here are superb and I’m looking forward to learning more about how you set up your specific shots, the size of lens you use and so forth. Thanks for being willing to share.

    • I saw the murmurations in Scotland too in the videos. On occasion, we get large flocks like that, and I did try to get photos, but never had the right lens on the camera when I needed it. They would be great photos in late afternoon. These photos have more to do with proximity than anything. You need the birds to come in close, especially if one lacks a telephoto lens.

  3. Beautiful Birds – so much color too! Happy Friday:)

  4. I love starlings – they are such curious and nosy birds. Yet more breathtaking photography. One of my new year resolutions will be to get my own to this standard, Donna! Thank you for the tips on photographing birds also. You really capture the colours and softness of light in every one 🙂

    • I think they are comical too. They have a very bad reputation in nesting and feeding and many would wish those across the pond kept the starlings in Europe! Like the dandelion, I appreciate many of the imports.

      I have lots of tips coming up and you will be having bird photos like this in no time. Think of your bee photos and just think bigger, fast shutter speed, higher ISO, and wide open aperture to limit background. All the same principles apply, just substitute a macro lens for a longer lens.

  5. Fossillady says:

    You’ve truly depicted the starlings in a different light than nuisances at the bird feeder! Lovely work Donna!

    • Thank you. They really are like the other birds in interest, but do cause commotion in feeding and noise. Did you know they can imitate the call of a hawk so the little dicky birds disperse? I have heard them do that. I get all excited to see a hawk and there is a starling. I see hawks every day, but not always in a spot to capture them. I do have some hawk photos in my yard coming up.

  6. HolleyGarden says:

    These are beautiful birds! I don’t think I’ve ever noticed starlings around here.

  7. I think Starlings are beautiful, and your post certainly captures their elegant colors.

  8. Donna-they’re beautiful and your photography is amazing. I always enjoy visiting and reading your postings!

    • Thank you Lee. Photographing wildlife is one of my passions. The post coming up talks of all the conifers in the yard. They give structure to the garden design, but more importantly, give shelter to the wildlife. Some even provide food.

  9. I never realized how pretty starlings were until I saw your photos. I got a bird feeder for Christmas, so maybe I’ll be able to get a few good shots.

  10. Layanee says:

    I look forward to your informational posts. The photographs are superb. Who knew starlings could be so darling.

  11. Patty says:

    Starlings do not seem terribly interested in my feeder. Wrong food? You reminded me to put the suet out. Looking forward to the next post on tips.

    • They are not big seed eaters, but need lots of protein. So if you have really oily seed, maybe that is why they are at the feeders for the high calorie content. They really don’t bother my feeders, but will forage the ground for what falls. They did pick at the pear and apple I put out, but went wild over the suet. Being soft-billed, they will not crack open a seed. I feed all hulled seed.

  12. Susan ITPH says:

    The starling is lovely, but I still come back from time to time to see pics of your cardinals.

  13. Those are beautiful words that accompanied beautiful photos. =>

  14. Les says:

    You have made one of the most common birds beautiful.

  15. Joe Owens says:

    There is some impressive camera work here! I love nature pictures and while I am not crazy about snow, it can provide a great background.

    • I like the snow and would miss it in a warmer locale. I find my winter images the ones I most prefer. A tip I learned by myself, is birds are much easier to find and photograph in winter when the trees are bare. Many here in the North look better against the white background, like the Jays, Cardinals, Tufted Titmouse, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Chickadees to name a few.

  16. Fantastic starling captures. The last one is amazing where it shows the blue on his/her wing. Starlings are wonderful when they do their mumuration. A truly magical moment in the sky. Love your photographing tips..I think I need to move some of my feeders for some better captures.

  17. paulinemulligan says:

    Not many starlings here ubfortunately due to changes in farming practices. We used to have such a lot coming to the feeders but not any more. Super photos, will enjoy seeing more.

  18. b-a-g says:

    Donna – Fantastic photos. Looking forward to reading your tips on encouraging birds to visit – my garden could do with a bit more excitement.

    • Thank you. Gardens bring birds just by being gardens three seasons of the year, but in winter, you need to plant to get them if you don’t put out seed. Many of the plants I have already have been picked clean. I guess the birds let me know that I got the feeders set up too late this year.

  19. I love your photos – I too enjoy the starlings in my garden, although mine look different to yours (red or orange breasted mine are). They are a noisy bunch, but thats what I enjoy. The sound of birds in my garden is always a joy. Will be following your posts for photo tips.

  20. Donna enjoy your time away…I have been building my backyard habitat here and I have just about everything except a heated water source and some larger evergreens for shelter…those will be next…I am also trying to increase berries and native fruit trees but they will take time to grow in…so in a few years I may be further ahead I hope…oh and I can’t forget some homemade suet for winter…I cannot hang feeders as they smaller hawks look for these and use them as their own feeders…so the many natives seed heads I do not cut down have served the birds well this winter…looking forward to your tips especially now with my new camera!!! 🙂

    • The conifers are the key. Without the shelter you will not have the birds en masse. They need a place to fly to when in danger from hawks or other wildlife. The deciduous trees are little help. The hawks fly right into my pear to pick off birds. The conifers do one other thing in a small garden. They make it difficult for the hawks to maneuver if they do not have ‘working room’ to down their prey. My garden makes it hard for them to even get a good visual, but they still try, but have a low percentage of success. I get more hawks, falcons, and kestrels (a couple times each day) than many due to being one-half block away from the gorge where they live. Hawks need the wind drafts to soar (to conserve energy when hunting) and that is why they reside in gorge and cliff regions. They also raise young there depending on the variety.

      I find the berries are usually long gone before the time when the birds really need them. I planted the pear and took out my crabapple and cherry because the birds cleaned them before winter. The pear lasts until spring. The Viburnum too. That is cleaned days after being ripe. You need these berry plants in quantity like in hedgerows to have enough for wintering birds. I hang feeders, but as I mentioned, smart landscaping keeps the hawks in line and levels the playing field. Don’t forget the vining plants. Mine (Ivy) are filled with birds in winter. They provide great hiding places and good over night shelter. I too leave up the Rudbeckia, yarrow and others for the birds, but my neighbor chops them down each year. The heated water source is also important in snow belt areas. With all the ice we get, the birdbath is used constantly.

  21. Greggo says:

    I used to fight starlings in my martin houses. Not the biggest fan, but your photos may have changed my mind.

  22. Great pictures. The juvenile starlings do have more attractive feathers. I also find that they will not bother with pure suet, it’s the peanuts they’re really after.

    • I put out peanut hearts and chipped peanuts but the starlings are not the ones eating them. They eat some, but do relish the suet more. They completely finish off the suet so I know they are eating the rendered fat. I am surprised your starlings forgo the suet to just eat the peanuts.

  23. Marguerite says:

    Beautiful photos of these very pretty birds. I didn’t really realize they would fight like that. I watched a flock of them in our yard today and they seem to cheery, chirping away at each other while they pulled bugs from the grass. I guess when prized suet is at stake though…

    • They really are aggressive birds. “The fluffing display is performed by males and females during aggressive encounters. The displaying bird faces another bird and puffs out all its feathers. The other bird may do the same.” This quote is from:

      The display is what my images are showing, but they are also stabbing each other with their pointy beaks. You must have more civilized and friendly birds. 😀
      You are right though, it is the suet that causes the aggressiveness. When they are foraging seed from below the feeders, they are more considerate of each other and other species of neighboring birds.

  24. Indie says:

    Such gorgeous photos! I don’t care for Starlings on my feeders, but they sure are pretty. The poem was beautiful as well.
    I find I have to photograph the birds to really be able to study them well. At first, I even had to take photos of many of them just to figure out what type of bird it was. My memory is not good enough to just watch and observe 🙂

    • I agree. If all I did was watch them, I would be less interested in getting to know them. Birds move so fast, I would have a hard time identifying many of the more infrequent visitors if I did not capture their photos. I got one last summer I still did not identify, even though I have thirty images of it. It must be really unusual for our area. I also photographed a white sparrow all summer. I read that is very rare. I still did not do a post on that bird yet.

  25. sharon says:

    gorgeous shots of some lovely birds!

  26. Oh how lovely! Although I have bird feeders outside, the only birds I see are the little timid blue tits and they don’t hang around long enough to capture. There are too many seagulls and magpies around. Your post has made me feel I should be a bit more proactive to encourage more small birds. Sending you war wishes for 2103.

    • I get the titmouse too and they are really shy in my garden. My best photos of them are at the feeding station I set up at the Falls Park woods many years ago. I got the birds so accustomed to me that those birds will come flying into my Jeep for the seed. The first time that happened, I freaked out. One even landed on my lens. Squirrels too. They hop right inside the Jeep. I learned very quickly to keep the windows almost closed. I got tired of going to the Falls to sit for long hours in the cold to take pictures, so when I took the classes, thought, hey, I can do this in my backyard. I just have to make some photographic modifications.

  27. Emily Heath says:

    Starlings used to be really common when I was growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but along with sparrows have declined sharply in the UK. Like so many other species they need our help, so I’m glad you’re feeding them and capturing their speckled beauty. .

    • In the UK, they have been monitoring their populations, no? I read where they were drugging nuisance birds, like in my post on Planned Parenthood for Squirrels. The Sparrows too for a time. But the reduction in Sparrows is really a mystery over there. I would like to read some studies from the UK on these two birds. Here we have lots of them, Sparrows especially.

  28. You elevated the common starling with your photos. Thank you for presenting the beauty in this bird. I am not a fan of starlings, but your photos show them to be quite beautiful.

    • I am not a fan per say either. Grackles either. Both birds do havoc on nesting sites of songbirds and woodpeckers, and I have jays, woodpeckers, robins and cardinals raising young here each summer. I have seen the Grackles destroy the nest and eggs of the robins in my lilac tree. They also injured the parents defending the nest. But, they have a right to live too, so I do nothing to stop what nature is doing, no matter how disheartening.

  29. Your images show how successful our are in taking images of birds. This summer I tried to take some pictures of birds in my pond, and I acknowledge how difficult it can be. I wish you a happy new year!!!

    • Happy New Year to you, Lula. My bird photos are all staged and setup in my Backyard Photo Studio. Each image has the staging area very close to the window from where I am shooting. You will see the Studio in subsequent posts. I am starting my series first by featuring the birds that visit daily.

  30. Malinda says:

    Happy New Year Donna! It’s been such a pleasure watching your blog evolve. You are very talented! I’ve always been interested in birds but have become more passionate about photographing and documenting this year. There is something so restorative about them – I’m sure part of it is making oneself slow down and observe. I look forward to reading more of your tips

    • Thank you, Malinda. Happy New Year to you also. I agree, photographing and luring birds to the yard is very relaxing and has a “feel good” appeal. I like my images better that I take in the state park, but there is far too much waiting in the cold involved. My aim is to get images close to them, but from the comfort of my warm home.

  31. Excellent captures of these birds in action. I’ve never seen Starlings in our area so I had to look them up in my bird book. After reading what aggressive birds they are and that they often successfully compete with native birds for nest holes I should be glad not to have them. They are however, very photogenic birds with their coloring and wing patterns.

    • Karin, if you get a chance, see the link I left in the comment to Layanee. It has the banding map which shows why you don’t see starlings. They don’t migrate to your area. They are bad for woodpeckers because they use their nests and evict the woodpecker young.

  32. Charlie says:

    I agree that Starlings do not always make the best neighbors, but your photos are amazing and I really enjoyed your post. Thank you and have a great new year.

  33. We have starlings here, too, in the warmer months as your map shows. I think of them as problem birds for the reasons you mention. But you have shown and described their unique qualities that make them beautiful in their own way.

    • Like all God’s creatures, they have their place. We have a tendency to weed out those pests we deem destructive. My post on Planned Parenthood for Squirrels noted how we feel about birds like Starlings. To me, it is sad. But, people brought them here, now people want to get rid of them. What animal will be next?

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  35. You have a full post here, so much I want to comment on. (on which I would like to comment) Yes, I marvel at the unity of a flock of starlings as they move through the sky, as if they are of one mind.
    Yes, perfect wishes for the new year. Absolutely.
    The wing profile picture shows almost a blue hue on the wings, amazing. I love the markings on the starlings, like black velvet with flecks of gold. 🙂
    Surprisingly we don’t have many starlings around here. Have lots of other birds, will be getting the camera focused in!!

  36. Christy says:

    I was very interested in your post about starlings. For the last two days it has been raining here almost non-stop. The rain must be bringing the grubs up to the service and I’ve had hundreds of starlings walking around the yard eating these grubs. Way to go starlings!!! Maybe I won’t have as many Japanese Beetles this summer. In the evening the starlings retreat to the trees in the surrounding woods. There must be thousands of them in the trees and they can be heard for quite a distance.

  37. These Starlings are fascinating-I’ve never appreciated their particular markings or wee size. Perhaps they’re not too common here. A handful of cuteness! Best, Paula

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