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Visually Sexing A Starling

Male Starling

Detailed close-up showing a male starling's eye.

This method is only an indication of gender, and is not 100 percent accurate.

Look at your bird's eye in sunlight, with magnification (if necessary) so that your eye is no more than 10" away from the bird's. The camera flash exaggerated the brightness of the male's mottled iris; it will be just barely lighter than the dark pupil. (The camera is also sensitive to near-ultraviolet, which starlings see, but our eyes can't. This makes the male's iris look lighter than it would appear to us.)

Female Starling

Detailed close-up showing a female starling's eye with its noticeable eye ring.
Photographs courtesy of Bill Lee

The female's iris ring IS visible to our eyes as separate from the pupil. It has boundaries that are a little more sharp than shown, and its line thickness changes as the eye adjusts to changing light.

The bird (in the front) in the picture below is a DNA sexed male, but has the brown eye ring.

Jennifer's male starlings
Photograph courtesy of Jennifer

Between 3 and 7 percent of non-juvenile starlings have conflicting iris and bill color characteristics. [Pyle, P. 2001. Identification Guide to North American Birds]

The photo below shows an example of an adult male
starling (Piper) singing with the hackle feathers raised.

Adult male starling (Piper) with hackle feathers raised.
Photograph courtesy of Jill Soha

Some additional ways of sexing a starling:
  • By the length of the hackle feathers. (See photo above.) Measuring only the iridescent portion of these feathers under the throat, adult males have the longest (11mm) adult females and first year birds the shortest (5.5-11mm). (Kessel 1951)
  • For birds in breeding condition, shown by a yellow bill, the base of the lower mandible is bluish or blue-gray in males, and pinkish in females.
  • Under wing coverts are very dark or black in adult males and brown or gray in females, but this can vary among individuals. (Suthers 1978)
  • Males are heavier than females. Estimates of normal male mass is 73-96 grams, females average 69-93 grams. (Hicks 1934, Blem 1981)

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