Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

Those alert readers may have noted a quotation from a poem by Mary Oliver at the top of the sidebar on the right.  It’s from “Starlings in Winter.” Many people are not familiar with Oliver’s work, nor the context of the quote, so I thought I’d share the full text of the poem (below).  Flocks of starlings are called a “murmuration.”

Starlings are not native to North America.  About 60-100 common starlings were released into New York City’s Central Park in 1890 by Eugene Schieffelin. He was president of the American Acclimatization Society, a misguided (and environmentally irresponsible) group of people whose aim was to introduce every bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare into North America.  Starlings are an invasive species in the US and their introduction has had a very deleterious effect on native bird populations.  The current population of starlings is around 150-200 million.

The poem makes reference to a thing starlings do at sunset when they’re gathering to roost for the night.  Video © 2013 Paul Bunyard-Wild About Images.

Starlings in Winter

by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.


Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays