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I live in the central region of Massachusetts, United States.

Last January we found this lovely bird eating suet in our suburban back yard. It's in a section of about ten feeders, mostly in the shade of a few evergreen trees. I've looked through my backyard bird guides and haven't seemed to find anything close enough to make a confident identification.

Since it was here in January, it might be something that overwinters here. However, some migrators pass through during the winter, so that might be a wrong assumption. Also, we had unusually warm weather during January and February, so that could have thrown off a migration schedule. We don't recall having seen it before and couldn't find it in pictures of our yard in the past few years.

Frequently birds this size scare smaller birds away from the suet, but that's not the case here. At first I thought it was just docile and they weren't scared, which might be true. However, I've been looking very closely at the two small ones, which are best seen in the bottom picture. They also have dark around the eyes and long skinny legs, so I wonder if this might be an adult male or female with babies who haven't grown into their adult colors. I could be completely wrong, though. It's all part of what makes bird identification difficult, and fun!

Notable physical characteristics:

  • Very dark eyes with black area around them
  • Long skinny brown legs, shown best holding onto suet in top picture
  • Multi-colored beak, with white closest to the face, then a small orange/brown section, and black at the tip
  • Small specks of white on head and parts of neck
  • Sections of white gradually getting larger along the lower part of the body
  • Scallop-shaped tail of black feathers with white around the edges
  • Long thin wings which are mostly brown with light colored stripes

best view, including long leg holding suet enter image description here enter image description here Good view of underside of tail enter image description here Sharing suet with small bird

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    Definitely starling. Note that these birds are actually foreign to North America. Fortunately they don't seem to have spread beyond urban areas. – Olin Lathrop Jun 13 '17 at 11:36
  • Since Martin Hügi correctly identified it as a starling, I looked up the various life stages, and the other birds in the picture don't appear to be young starlings. I guess everybody was just in a sharing mood! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Jun 14 '17 at 20:49
  • All birds in your pictures are starlings except the ones at the bottom of some of the pictures. I assumed these were just collateral captures in the photographs, and that you knew they were different birds since it's so obvious. I doubt anyone thought you were asking about these much smaller seed-eaters. – Olin Lathrop Jun 14 '17 at 21:00
11

It looks like a Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), which are quite common over here in the UK.

enter image description here

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/s/starling/

Starlings love suet.

Search for "Starling murmuration" and go to videos, in the UK & Ireland this is a common site in the winter - Try https://www.wired.com/2011/11/starling-flock/ (nb: best viewed at the size on the web page, rather than made full screen)

enter image description here

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    Germany reporting in: would identify as starling as well. They change their color a bit over the seasons, which is why the color of the beak or feathers does not have to match the one pictured. – Peter1807 Jun 13 '17 at 5:52
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    Just to add some additional information, Very common in Europe but an introduced species in North America. Some guy for some reason decided he needed to introduce every bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare into North America... o_O The Common Starling is on the decline in the UK and is listed as red status by the RSPB – user2766 Jun 13 '17 at 7:54
  • Right you are Martin and everyone! Of course I'd thought of it, but there were discrepancies in my guides. As @Peter1807 said, characteristics change during seasons, and phases of life like growing, molting, breeding. The pictures were taken from 20 ft away with just a regular camera on zoom so I probably missed things. The video in your RSPB link looks exactly like mine! The Wired link's great but I could only read for 20 seconds because it didn't like my ad-blocker! Now that the ID has been made I can study it some more! Thanks to you all! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Jun 13 '17 at 20:09
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    @Liam Thanks for the Shakespeare information. I looked it up. The man was Eugene Schieffelin. The quote is from Shakespeare's Henry IV: "Nay, I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion," It was in the late 1800s, and took a few times before the starlings became successful. They're called a "naturalized" species, as they've been breeding here for so many generations. Interestingly, the same man brought us the house sparrow 30 years earlier! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Jun 14 '17 at 20:41

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