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Starlings and Cavity-Nesting Birds
Are Starlings Really Causing the Damage So Many Attribute to Them?

European starling and young.
Photograph © UMWELTBILD

Have you ever wondered why there are so many articles on the web, (some of them written by academicians who should know better), which state that starlings have done great harm to native cavity nesting birds, yet not a single one of these articles cite any research that would substantiate that claim? I have spent a lot of time, without success, looking for such scientific research. It appears that because European Starlings are non-native, and therefore considered an invasive species, that this sort of information is passed from one person to another without anything other than hearsay to back it up.

In the article "European Starlings and Their Effect on Native Cavity-Nesting Birds", Conservation Biology, August 2003, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 1134-1140, Dr. Koenig writes that in comparing the densities of twenty-seven native cavity-nesting species before and after invasion of sites by starlings, that "only five species showed negative effects, evidence for a decline in one analysis was countered by an increase in the other, whereas in two others declines were likely due to factors other than starling competition. Only sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus spp) exhibited declines potentially attributable to starlings that were not countered by other data. Native hole-nesting birds have thus far apparently held their own against the starling invasion, despite the latter's abundance and aggressive usurpation of often limited cavities".

To read this abstract please go to: European Starlings and Their Effect on Native Cavity-Nesting Birds

Dr. Walter D. Koenig is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D. in Zoology, December 1978. Post-doctoral: University of California, Berkeley, 1978-1981. Is currently employed as Zoologist, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, UCBerkeley, and Adjunct Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, UCBerkeley.

In an article by Mr. Ole Post, "European Starlings...The Other story: Starlings In Their Native Lands and Habitat",The Purple Martin Society, NA, Newsletter Summer 2003, Mr. Post writes: "Nowhere in European scientific literature have I found evidence of Starlings emptying already occupied nests of other bird species. Starlings remain a successful and resourceful bird. In some ways their behavior reminds me of humans".

Mr. Post is a former member of the Board of Directors, Danish Ornithological Society

To read about the natural diet of wild European Starlings click here: Wild starling diet

To see pictures of starlings from egg to hatch click here: In the Nest

Songbird Population Decline

The information below was copied with permission from

When someone informs us that starlings are causing this country's native songbird population to decline, we ask them what studies or research on which they base their views. They never give valid reasons why they believe this! In fact they never seem to know exactly which songbirds are declining! It is obvious that they do not bother to look into issues for themselves but rather choose to blindly quote common misinformation they hear from other individuals.

Some songbird populations are indeed dwindling, but it is NOT due to European starlings! Among the various causes, two that are currently being intensely studied by researchers are loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation. If you are unfamiliar with either of those terms or if you know little about the causes of songbird decline in our country, I encourage you to hunt down as much valid up-to-date info as you can. When reading info, check your resources to make sure they were not simply written by Sam Starlinghater who has no degree in anything and whose idea of research is to look out his window and say, "Yep, I see some evil starlings out there. I can tell that they're about to eat everything I planted in my fields or push another bird out of a hole."

For those people who have never actually looked into the causes or the extent of songbird population decline, we list the following resources. Perhaps they will start you on your own quest for knowledge about this serious issue.

Resources about Songbird Population Decline:

"The Case Of The Missing Songbirds" --
I list this article because it is a good introduction into the issue of songbird decline. It not only gives readers a general overview of songbird decline but also gives one an idea of the various probable causes which research is finding pertinent to the problem. It mentions The North American Breeding Bird Survey Results and Analysis (BBS), a continent-wide census which was originated by Chandler Robbins and which took place between the years of 1966-2002. This article also, very importantly, mentions habitat fragmentation (and the resulting problems songbirds face from predators) and habitat loss (both summer breeding habitat and winter habitat ) -- issues being studied intensely by scientists who are realizing that songbirds are adversely affected by both. After reading this article, one might better know 'what' to search for when looking for research and studies done on songbird decline.

"Plight of the Vanishing Songbirds - A new study looks at the decline of forest-dwelling neotropical migratory birds" --
Interesting thought-provoking article which cites info and results of studies done by various scientific researchers.
The new study which was cited in the above article was done by King and Rappole on the destruction of winter songbird habitat. This report can be found here in its entirety.

"Fewer Songbirds May Be Result Of Forest Fragmentation Across The American South, New Study Suggests" --
The study was published in Volume 12, No. 5 of Conservation Biology, October 1998. It discusses songbird decline in the South; may be of interest to those living in that region, especially since similar trends are now being seen from studies done in other regions of the country. Quote from the paper: "the study is a step toward understanding with greater clarity why ground-nesting songbirds are declining in the South."

"Winter Population Trends of Selected Songbirds" --
States at the beginning, "For this study we used the CBC data to examine population trends of songbirds with ranges that apparently are limited by lower temperatures in the North. We chose these species to track populations of birds that could be in peril in the future." In the study, researchers examined 30 years of CBC data (winters of 1959-60 to 1988-89) for 50 songbirds whose northern range edges are associated with January minimum temperatures. Read the paper to see the study results. Especially click on the first chart beside the heading "Trends" to see which birds studied were decreasing or increasing.

"Effects of Urbanization on Forest Wildlife" --
Read the first section in this document -- "5.2.1 Effects of urbanization on forest birds" -- it takes up nearly the first half of the webpage. Throughout the document, scientific papers and their authors are cited frequently along with info given from each. Section two which is entitled, "5.2.2 The effects of urbanization on birds of prey and scavengers" is another interesting issue as well.

Links for those interested in wild songbird conservation:
"Habitat Loss and Fragmentation" -- article by NPCA (National Park Conservation Assoc.)
"Threatened and Endangered Animals and Plants" - US Fish and Wildlife (FWS) site -- Under this heading you can click on links which have lists of endangered species and look through them for lists of birds.
Birds Protected By The Migratory Bird Treaty Act
American Bird Conservancy (ABC)
Partners In Flight's most recent Watch List -- This was "developed to highlight those birds of the continental United States not already listed under the Endangered Species Act, that most warrant conservation attention. It is both an early warning system for birds that may be at risk and a device to draw national attention to the general condition of our avifauna."

The beautiful starling photo is courtesy of UMWELTBILD -- email address:

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