Starlings are amazing

October 29, 2021

Back in May, Amy Schwartz posted a photo of a starling that shethat had ringed that morning:

Impressed by the subtlety of the coloration, I wondered what would happen if I increased the colour saturation. I did this very simply: in the free image editor GIMP, I selected the parts of the photo that were starling (omitting the human hand and the background), and using the Hue-Saturation tool I wound the saturation up to 100%. Then I did the same thing again. Here is the result, with no other editing at all:

What an extraordinary riot of colour, in a bird that we mostly think of as “basically black with dots.”

So I thought I’d try the same trick on another starling photo, this one from the All About Birds page on the European Starling. Here is the original:

And here is the result of saturating the colours — this time through three cycles.

So my question is this: can other starlings see all this colour? In their own closed starling-centric world, are they fabulously colourful? Is this something close to what is perceptually apparent to animals whose eyes are attuned to different wavelengths from ours?that

6 Responses to “Starlings are amazing”

  1. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Neat. My immediate question, given the family proximity to the parrots (really, just both are birds as far as I know) that (to me) resemble your doctored photos, is whether this is a similar 2-3 mutations to go from one to the other. Since starling iridescence is, iirc, based more on feather structure than pigments (hence “black with dots”), maybe not.

  2. dale m. Says:

    Better question.

    Could we as humans increase the zone of wavelengths that our eyes currently perceive ? Or is this a neurological thing ? I smell weaponizing applications here !!

  3. LeeB. Says:

    They may look even brighter to themselves given that they probably see UV light; a lot of birds do.
    The problem with humans seeing more wavelengths of light is that our lens doesn’t transmit UV light.
    Generally when people get cataracts and they have an intraocular lens fitted this doesn’t transmit UV light either.
    However I remember reading about at least one case where there must have been some problem with the lens composition and it did transmit UV light; when they saw someone scanning banknotes with a UV light to see the security features they perceived the light emitting a strong purplish colour.

  4. LeeB. Says:

    Also a lot of passeriform birds that have small crests on their heads that are the same colour as the rest of their feathers are found to have the crests being highly reflective in UV wavelengths.
    Of course some freshwater fish that live in muddy water can see well in the near infrared as the mud particles in the water don’t prevent the transmission of those wavelengths.
    I am told that goldfish can see this type of light and if you go into a dark room at night with goldfish in a tank and aim a tv remote at the tank and push the button they will react to the tv remote beam; presumably some kind of startle reaction.

  5. LeeB. Says:

    It is also worth looking up African Lamprotornis starlings, they have names like superb, splendid and emerald starlings because they don’t need colour enhancing.

  6. Interesting! Birds can see on the UV spectrum not visible to our eyes.

    “To birds, most of which can see on the ultraviolet spectrum invisible to humans, iridescent starling bodies literally glow.” – from Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

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