European starlings can be one of the least wanted backyard birds but also one of the most challenging to get rid of. Backyard birders who want to get rid of starlings don't have to give up, however, and it is possible to make a yard less starling-friendly without driving away other feathered guests.
Why Starlings Can Be a Problem
Common or European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are invasive in many parts of the world, and even in their native range they can quickly become an overwhelming nuisance. But what makes these birds, which are naturally energetic, adaptable, and sociable, so undesirable?
- Noise: Starlings have loud, raspy screeches and squawks in their vocal repertoire, with no sense of musical harmony that might otherwise make their sounds more pleasing. Both adults and juveniles can be insistent with their vocalizations, keeping up the cacophony for long periods of time.
- Flocks: Starlings are highly gregarious and form large flocks year-round. Even in the midst of the breeding season when many birds are naturally territorial and solitary, starlings may congregate in flocks of hundreds or thousands. Such large flocks can quickly overwhelm a bird feeding station and usurp food from any other birds that might visit, taking a big bite out of a bird feeding budget.
- Aggression: These are naturally aggressive birds that won't hesitate to injure or kill other birds as they seek out the best food sources and nesting sites. This can devastate more timid bird species and has had drastic effects on populations of some North American native birds, such as eastern bluebirds and purple martins.
- Fertility: Starlings are fast, fertile breeders, with a single mated pair raising 2-3 broods each year, with each brood producing 5-8 new starlings to join the flock. This tremendous population growth and can lead to starlings quickly overtaking native species and causing extreme competition for limited resources.
- Habitat Preferences: Starlings prefer open grassy habitats, making suburban lawns, parks, sports fields, and golf courses ideal areas for them. This preference brings them close to bird feeders and houses even more quickly, allowing them to take over resources meant for other bird species.
Keeping Starlings Out of the Yard
Not all birders want to get rid of starlings, but those who do have a range of options to discourage these bully birds. It can be easy to make life difficult for starlings, and these opportunistic birds will quickly move on to safer, more productive places.
If starlings are a problem in your yard, try:
- Restrictive Feeders: Opt for feeders that exclude starlings with mesh cages or similar barriers. Tube feeders with small perches or clinging mesh designs are also less comfortable for starlings. Domed feeders can also help keep starlings away, as these birds aren't as agile to get underneath the dome. Avoid large, open feeders such as hoppers or platforms that are easy targets for hungry starling flocks.
- Choose Foods Wisely: Starlings are fond of suet, kitchen scraps, and cracked corn, so removing these foods from a backyard buffet will give them fewer options to sample. Nyjer, safflower seed, nectar, and whole peanuts are far less palatable to starlings but will still attract a wide range of other hungry bird species.
- Remove Other Food Sources: Starlings will sample a wide variety of natural foods and can decimate a garden or orchard. Covering fruit-bearing trees and shrubs with netting will help keep starlings away, and windfall fruits should be gathered up and discarded. Cleaning beneath hanging feeders will remove spilled seed that starlings could sample. Also be sure to remove outdoor pet food and cover compost pile scraps that may tempt starlings.
- Prune Trees: If starlings are roosting in the yard, pruning trees to reduce branch density will make them feel less comfortable and can force larger flocks to seek shelter elsewhere. Smaller bird species that roost singly or in small flocks will still feel secure even in a heavily pruned tree.
- Restrict Nesting: Starlings require an entrance hole of 1.5" in diameter to access a birdhouse. If your birdhouses have large entrances, repair the entrance holes and make them smaller so starlings are unable to get inside. At the same time, use small gauge mesh to block open pipes, vents, and other nooks and crannies that may appeal to nesting starlings. Because starlings are not protected in many areas, their nests and eggs can be removed and destroyed if desired.
- Use Sound Repellents: When a flock of starlings visits, a sonic blast can quickly encourage them to move along. Recorded hawk calls or other predator noises can be effective, or simply going outside to chase them away with banging or yells can discourage them, at least temporarily.
For the best results, use a variety of techniques to discourage starlings, and change techniques regularly so the birds do not become accustomed to one deterrent.
The Last Resort
If starlings continue to be pests, it may be wise to stop feeding birds altogether for a week or two. Remove feeders and baths and allow the birds time to move on before reinstating feeding areas that are less starling-friendly. At no time, however, should starlings be shot in order to deter them. Doing so is illegal in many urban and suburban areas, and the risk of accidentally hitting protected bird species is too great. Similarly, do not allow cats or other outdoor pets to hunt birds in the hopes that they will reduce the starling population, as there is no way to train a pet which birds are acceptable to kill and which are not.
European starlings can be beautiful, entertaining birds, but they quickly become ugly and unwanted when they overwhelm feeders and threaten native birds. By taking steps to discourage starlings, it is possible to enjoy backyard birding without these unwelcome guests.