Adaptable and resourceful, the European starling is a common bird worldwide. Native to Eurasia, the species has been so successfully introduced around the world that it is considered an invasive bird in many areas, including North America.
Common Name: European Starling, Common Starling, Starling
Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris
Scientific Family: Sturnidae
- Bill: Long, pointed, yellow in breeding plumage, blackish-gray in non-breeding plumage
- Size: 8.5 inches long with 15-inch wingspan, stubby tail
- Colors: Black, buff, iridescent, red, brown, white
- Markings: Sexes are identical with allover black plumage highlighted with an iridescent green and purple gloss on the head, back, nape, flanks and chest. Fresh fall plumage has buff, whitish or brownish tips to feathers giving the birds a heavily spotted look, though the spots wear off by spring. Wings and the short tail are dark and edged with buff. Legs and feet are red. Winter plumage is duller overall without the iridescent gloss, and the legs and feet are darker.
Juveniles are sooty gray all over, with slightly darker lores and a paler throat. Young birds have black legs and feet and a dark bill.
Foods: Insects, fruit, grain, seeds (See: Omnivorous)
Habitat and Migration
The European starling's native habitat includes a year-round range in Western Europe and around the Caspian Sea that expands to Scandinavia and western Russia in the summer and the Iberian Peninsula, Middle East, and northern Africa in the winter. These birds have been introduced in many regions worldwide, including South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. In North America, European starlings are found year-round throughout the continental United States, northern Mexico, and southern Canada, expanding further north during summers.
Regardless of where the birds are found, they prefer open habitats such as plains, agricultural fields, and open woodlands, and in urban and suburban areas they are frequently found in yards and parks.
These are noisy birds with a wide variety of loud, demanding calls. Typical calls include whistles, chatters, rattles, chips, and trills, and they can also imitate numerous other bird species and non-bird sounds. Juvenile birds are especially loud when begging in the nest or shortly after fledging, and a flock of either juveniles or adults can make an overwhelming cacophony.
European starlings are tenacious, energetic birds that can be aggressive when feeding or nesting. During the breeding season they are generally solitary or found in pairs, but in the fall and winter, they will form large roosting flocks that may number up to 1 million birds or more. These large flocks can be primarily starlings or may be mixed with different blackbird species.
While feeding, these birds forage on the open ground, prodding into short grass and soil with their bills to seek out insects and grain as they walk around, with occasional hops in their gait. They have been known to raid the caches of other birds and will readily steal from one another.
These are generally monogamous birds that aggressively claim nesting cavities from other species, including woodpeckers, chickadees, and bluebirds. Occasional polygamy is noted in some males. A mated pair will produce 2 to 3 broods of 5 to 8 pale blue or greenish oval-shaped eggs each during the breeding season.
Both parents incubate the eggs for 12 to 14 days, and both parents will feed the altricial young for an additional 19 to 21 days after hatching. The juvenile birds will follow their parents for another 1 to 2 weeks begging and demanding food.
Attracting European Starlings
These birds are easily attracted to backyard feeders with peanut butter, suet, and bread scraps, and they will also visit platform and hopper feeders for seed and grain. Because these birds can bring large flocks with voracious appetites to a backyard, many birders prefer to discourage their visits. Using bird feeders with cages to exclude larger birds and cleaning up seed spilled on the ground can minimize European starling intrusions.
These birds are not considered threatened or endangered, though in some areas of their native range, their populations are declining drastically. In other areas, however, populations are rising, leading ornithologists to believe the overall range of the species may be shifting somewhat, rather than simple population changes.
In areas where these birds are considered invasive, they are not often protected and may be subject to culling or persecution.
Photo – European Starling © Lars Plougmann