Flocking together

European starlings often group together during the winter months, especially at dusk as seen here Sunday near the corner of 21st Street and Sasser Drive. (Staff photo: Mike Linn)

By Tova Fruchtman: CNJ staff writer

Richard Sharick watched as swarms of birds filled the sky Sunday evening outside his home in the 100 block of Sasser Drive. He’s been watching the same birds every night since October.

Thousands of starlings circle above his home at about 4:30 p.m. each night, eventually landing in the evergreen trees that divide the ally behind his home from the Laurel Plains Health Care parking lot.

“I’m amazed. This is the first year the starlings have come in here,” said Sharick, who has been living in his home since 1970. “It’s the same ritual every night.”

And each morning at 6:30 a.m. he said his wife watches them leave.

On Sunday evening he watched the birds circle and then dive into the evergreen trees as if they knew exactly where they were going. And just before dusk turns to darkness the swarming starlings fill the sky with their friends, and the air with their tweets.

“They make that noise all night long. They chirp and talk and tell stories,” he said.

Tony Gennaro, wildlife biologist and professor emeritus at Eastern New Mexico University, said although this is the first time the birds have chosen to land near the Sharick’s house, the massive gathering is a common phenomena in eastern New Mexico during the winter months.

European starlings are not native to the area, or even America, Gennaro explained. Eugene Schueslin introduced 60 to Central Park in New York City in 1890. A year later he introduced 40 more, Gennaro said.

The birds spread as time went on, and in 1936 they were discovered in New Mexico, Gennaro said.

The starlings don’t migrate to Clovis, he said. In the summer, they mate and live as pairs, but during the winter they gather in large groups and sleep together in evergreen trees.

“Hundreds of them will group within a conifer to sleep,” Gennaro said as he stood in Sharick’s back yard admiring the starlings Sunday. “They put on a show.”

The starlings sit on leafless trees or power lines, and fly circles above their ideal spot each night to see if there is a predator, or any type of danger before they dive into the tree and fill it’s branches, Gennaro said.

Seen close up they are easy to spot, Gennaro said.

“They are recognized very easily by dark color, short tail and long sharp bill,” he said.

He said the starlings will continue this ritual each evening until March when they seek a mate again.

“It’s beautiful to watch, especially when it’s twilight,” Gennaro said.

As darkness set in Sunday, most of the starlings had disappeared from the sky, and could be found on a spot in one of the green trees.

Gennaro said they must find a spot to sleep by dark, or they will not be able to see.