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European Starlings

There are approximately 114 members of the starling family. The best known starling is in the genus "sturnus." Included in this genus of 16 species is the Red-billed Starling, White-cheeked Starling, Spotless Starling and Common Starlings, (Sturnus Vulgaris). What is not well known is that the subspecies, Sturnus Vulgaris includes approximately 12 subspecies, but by far the best known is "s.v. Sturnus Vulgaris," and this is the one that is believed to have been imported to the United States. Most of the subspecies are migratory, but a few are not.

European Starlings walk rather than hop as many of the other bird species do, such as Mynahs. They have strong legs and toes with sharp claws. The bill is pointed and perfectly adapted for probing into soil, or picking food from the surface of the ground, catching insects, and poking holes in fruit. One of the unique adaptions of the Starling is prying or open-bill probing from the development of advanced protractor muscles. It can insert the closed bill into the grass and then open the bill; the eyes move forward (binocular vision) to give better forward vision. Their wings are adapted for speed rather than maneuverability.

The winter color is a glossy iridescent black with purple and greens, the tips of the birds feathers have white stars. By spring the white feather tips have worn away, so that by the time of breeding season they are no longer noticeable. They only molt once a year. The Starling in winter has a dark brown beak that changes into yellow as breeding season approaches. The timing of this change seems to be geographic as some start changing as early as Nov. while others don't do so until Jan. or Feb. Male starlings in breeding season have a blue cast to the beak and females have pink. To see a picture of male and female starlings click here

The temperatures in which a starling can maintain their body temperature without expending any energy is between 10 and 100 degrees F. (15 to 40 degrees C.) Temperatures outside of this range requires the bird to expend energy to produce heat to maintain the body temperature. Some believed that the habit of flocking, in winter, was to regulate the temperature and humidity. However, studies have shown that both the temperature and humidity were similar inside and outside the roost. It has been found that Starlings can be prevented from roosting in their preferred sites by thinning the tree canopy. The preferred winter roosting site is in conifers/evergreens, especially spruce. Deciduous trees are preferred in the summer. Roosting in urban areas could be explained by the fact that increasing urbanization has led to the destruction of many rural sites that might have been used.

Starlings are keen bathers, and love to spread their wings and go into what looks like a trance to sun bathe. They also engage in a practice called "anting," in which they dab their bodies with caught ants, or with other acidic things such as vodka or vinegar. This is believed to release formic acid which repels ectoparasites.

The oldest Starling ever recorded is a bird that was banded in Germany in 1943; it was recovered in 1955, 21 years and 4 months after being banded. In captivity the oldest recorded bird, Kuro lived to be 19 years old.

Starlings are essentially ground feeders, preferring short grass, such as mowed lawns, and livestock areas. They are widely held as beneficial to agriculture in many parts of the world and it is this feature that has led to some of them being introduced into new areas. Starling (NZBirds Gallery) The starling is native to Europe, where it remains one of that continent's most common birds.

Starling painting by Don Wesley

In 1890 about 60 starlings were imported to the United States by a group who wanted to introduce all the birds mentioned by William Shakespeare in his plays.Due to the starling’s ability to mimic human speech Shakespeare chose to include the starling in Henry IV, “The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I’ll holler ‘Mortimer!’ 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.” This is the only instance where Shakespeare mentions starlings. The starlings were released in New York City's Central Park. Another 40 starlings were released a year later. The birds multiplied rapidly and spread into surrounding areas. However, in recent years there has been a dramatic decline in starling populations, both in Europe and the US; the cause has not yet been found. The Decline of Starlings

Picture courtesy of Don Wesley, from his paintings depicting Starlings as the proud and triumphant explorers and conquerers that they are.

Rachel L. Carson, author of "Silent Spring" in the article "How about Citizenship Papers for the Starling?" says:

"In spite of his remarkable success as a pioneer, the starling probably has fewer friends than almost any other creatue that wears feathers. That fact, however, seems to be of very little importance to this cheerful bird with glossy plumage and stumpy tail. Without seeming to care whether the benefiting farmer thanks him or reviles him, he hurries with jerky steps about the farms and gardens in the summer time, carring more than 100 loads of destructive insects per day to his screaming offspring, cramming his own stomach full of such foods as Japanese beetles, caterpillars, and cutworms. With complete indifference to angry protests, he finds roosting places in warm cities in the winter, going out each morning, a faithful commuter in reverse, to earn his bread in the surrounding countryside.

On one point ornithologists are pretty well agreed--the starling is here to stay. Shall we then continue to regard him as an alien or shall we conclude that his successful pioneering and his service in insect destruction entitle him to American citizenship?

As to economic worth, a pretty complete auditing of the starling's books has already been performed by the Department of Agriculture." To read about the natural diet of the wild starling click here.

In breeding season starlings require large quantities of invertebrates, because of their high protein needs. When feeding young, their diet is almost entirely invertebrates obtained from the surface of soil of grass fields. In winter, male starlings tend to eat a more vegetable and grain diet, while females need to devote more time to feeding on invertebrates. When starlings switch to grain or vegetable food, the intestines lengthen, and the wall of the gizzard increases in thickness to better absorb/utilize the nutrients in the harder to digest food. Starlings are usually healthy, robust birds.

Bill-wiping (the habit of wiping the bill back and forth on a branch or other such object) seems to indicate to other birds that the bird has finished eating and is no longer a competitor for food. In a study it was found that it also seems to be a means of keeping the beak trimmed to the right length. The study found that starlings given only smooth surfaces, such as perches wrapped in linen, engaged in bill-wiping more often than the birds given rough surfaces to wipe their beaks on. The birds with the smooth surfaces developed overgrown beaks, which the birds with the rough surfaces did not. (Cuthill, Witter, Luka Clarke, 1992)


The male finds a nest site and then uses his song to attract a mate. It is also the male who builds the nest and includes things such as fresh flowers, green leaves and herbs. The male also engages in wing-waving in which he half extends his wings and rotates them while singing. This seems to be a way of attracting a mate. In breeding season the female is dominate, perhaps because there are two males for every female starling.

Nesting Behavior

The eggs are usually a solid pale color, without spotting, however there may be an occasional spotted egg. This is believed to help the parents see the eggs and is typical of cavity nesting birds, however starlings in most of the other genera lay blue, spotted eggs. Starlings also make bulky nests within their cavities. Starlings lay eggs at approximately 24 hour intervals, but the first three are laid at slightly less than that. They are incubated on average of 12 days after the laying of the last egg. The female does most of the incubation, but the male will help out. Four eggs are the normal clutch size. The eggs all hatch, usually within 24 hours of each other. Sometimes one egg will hatch a day later than the rest. This last chick rarely survives, as the older siblings have already started growing and are able to out-compete it for food. Go to baby starlings to see a series of pictures from the egg to fledging.

"John Aubrey (quoted by Atkinson 1956) thought that some of the holes left in the mortice-and-tenon joints between upright stones and lintels of Stonehenge might have been left deliberately for Starlings to nest in, these birds being held sacred by the Druids who are often considered to have had connections with this monument." However, Atkinson casts some doubt on this connection and points out that Stonehenge was built over 1000 years before Druidism became a cult: perhaps it was the nesting of Starlings in religious structures like this that led to their being regarded as "sacred!" (Christopher Feare, 1984)


Besides their voracious consumption of harmful insects, they are also a food source for many of our native birds and animals. Because they are very abundant during most of the year, the European Starling is an important prey species as food for raptors, such as Peregrine Falcons, Cooper's and Sharp-Shinned hawks. Biologist Bud Anderson, with the Falcon Research Group is studying the peregrine falcons' comeback in Washington state since the phase out of the pesticide DDT. He says: "We're looking at 30 pairs of peregrines and in virtually all those nests we see starlings as one of the main prey items," and further stated "Starlings are helping bring back peregrines."

The reports of Starlings taking over the nests of other birds has been the reason some people dislike them. Recent research has shown that starlings have had little impact on native cavity-nesters. Please read Starlings and Cavity-Nesters. Many native birds have been forced to use man-made nest boxes because their natural habitat has been destroyed. With the destruction of forest lands the birds who would normally live and breed there are forced out and into the habitat of the starling, even so, the sapsucker seems to be the only bird that may be impacted by starlings. According to Dr.W.D.Koenig, [1] in his research paper, "European Starlings and their Effect on Native Cavity-Nesting Birds" he found that "Thus, despite their aggressiveness and high abundance,and contrary to the fears of many North American ornithologists, European Starlings have yet to unambiguously and significantly threaten any species of North American cavity-nesting bird, with the possible exception of sapsuckers".

Please click title to visit the following website: The Case Of The Missing Songbirds

Artificial nest boxes can be made with entrance holes that prevent the starling from entering. People who are trying to have nesting birds on their property should make an effort to insure that the nest box holes are the right size. Starlings can be excluded from nest boxes by using an entrance hole less than 4.1 cm as advised by Giusti and Gorenzel (1993) and Lynes (2000). The following website, Audubon Workshop, has devices and information that will prevent starlings from entering nest boxes. Click here: Audubon Workshop


Birds do not have a larynx, but sing/talk with an organ called the syrinx. The syrinx is located at the bottom of the trachea (the tube just above the lungs). It is made up of chambers whose "walls" (membranes) vibrate when air passes them. Birds use special muscles to change the shapes of the membranes, which changes the sounds of their songs. It is interesting to note that birds with some of the most beautiful songs -- such as Mockingbirds, and superb mimics, such as European Starlings-- have more muscles to control the membranes of the syrinx. Some birds can vibrate the left and right sides of the syrinx independently, so their songs are harmonious duets produced by a single bird! This is a great link to hear pet starlings talking at Starlings can Talk?

Male Starlings that have developed the most involved songs are considered to be the most desirable to hens, and females seem to be able to recognize the song of their mates. Starlings can also mimic the sounds of their surroundings such as other birds, animals, and mechanical sounds, as well as the human voice. This mimicked call is incorporated into the song of the male. Of interest is a study which found that starlings can memorize a sound at 6 months of age, never hear it again, but reproduce it up to 18 months later. This study also found that starlings add new sounds for up to 13 months. (Chaiken, Bohner, Marler, 1994) We have birds on the Starling Talk message board who are still learning new sounds at 10 years of age.


Christopher Feare. The Starling. Oxford Press, 1984.

Chris Feare and Adrain Craig. Starlings and Mynas. Princeton University Press, 1999.

Marthaleah Chaiken, Jorg Bohner, and Peter Marler. "Repertoire Turnover and the Timing of Song Acquisition in European Starlings." Animal Behavior, vol 128 (1-2) 1994, pp26-39.

Rachel L. Carson. "How About Citizenship Papers For The Starling?"Nature Magazine, Vol.32, 1939, pp317-319.

Innes Cuthill, Mark Witter, and Luka Clarke. "The function of Bill-Wiping." Animal Behavior, Vol 43 ,1992 pp103-115.

Koenig W.D.[1] "European Starlings and Their Effect on Native Cavity-Nesting Birds" "Conservation Biology", August 2003, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 1134-1140

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