|Species: European Starling
All 200 million plus European Starlings in North America today are
descendants of 100 individuals released by Shakespeare enthusiasts
in Central Park in the 1890’s. The westward development of
North America created their favoured open habitat as well as
provided cereal grains for food. This increased breeding
success making the European Starling probably the most successful bird on
Now, ranging from Alaska to Mexico starlings are highly gregarious
and are often found roosting and feeding in large flocks, especially
within their winter range.
Often considered very aggressive and to be pests, they are actually
fairly wary and difficult to approach.
Chunky, medium sized birds with strong legs and feet, starlings have
short tails and long slender, conical beaks with sharp tips.
Their short, square tail and triangular wings give a flight profile
like a star (giving them their name). Starlings are 19 to 22 cm
long with a wingspan of 37 to 42 cm and weigh 60 to 90 g.
From a distance, starlings appear black, but in the summer their
plumage is shiny purplish-green iridescent and in the winter is
brown and covered with white spots. This breeding appearance
is acquired by wear as the fresh white feather tips wear off to
expose glossy black.
Sexes are similar; however males are less spotted below than
females. In summer the male’s bill is yellow with a blue-grey
base and in winter is black.
Sexes are similar; however females are more spotted below than
males. In summer the female’s bill is yellow overall and in
winter is black.
starlings are drab grey-brown overall. After their first molt
they more resemble adults although do retain their greyish head
through the early part of the winter. Juvenile bills are
Although the starling’s structure is distinctive, they are
sometimes confused with blackbirds who can co-occur in large flocks.
Blackbirds however are more slender bodied with longer tails and
pointier wings. Flight profile of starlings can be confused
with waxwings, meadowlarks, or purple martins.
European Starlings eat a variety of animal and plant food, mainly
insects and other invertebrates, but also fruit, nectar, grain, and
eggs of other birds. They are often seen foraging on the
ground probing with their bill as they have specially developed
muscles that allow them to pry open their bills while probing in the
soil. They therefore can capture prey unavailable to other
foragers. This process is called gaping. This is one
possible reason why starlings can winter in temperate areas where
other insectivores can not.
Starlings are great vocal mimics reproducing other species songs as
well as inanimate, mechanical noises like squeaks, grinding and
sirens. Generally, their song is rich and varied, and often
incorporates elements from Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous),
meadowlarks (genus Sturnella) and others.
European Starlings are found in virtually all human modified
habitats, occurring commonly in urban centres but also in woodland
Most Starlings are resident, although wander widely if conditions
are poor. They are partly migratory as some individuals
migrate in some years but not in others and most or all birds
withdraw from northern or high-elevation sites.
European Starlings nest in a variety of cavities including
woodpecker holes, birdhouses, and crevices in buildings. The male
selects the nest site and initiates nest-building. The female
then selects the male and completes the nest by lining it with
grass, twigs, forbs, straw and the like.
Producing two, occasionally three broods, starling females incubate
60 percent of the time during the day and 100 percent at night.
The male incubates only a small part of the day. Starlings are
generally monogamous but in many populations males change mates
between broods. The second mate receives little help with the
young. They defend only the immediate nest and small area
around it and will nest semi-colonially if suitable nesting sites
are clustered together.
Due to their recent arrival, individual European Starlings are all
closely related, showing little genetic variation.
Although their numbers have declined recently, especially in Canada,
European Starling is one of the most abundant species in North
America. They do pose a threat to some cavity-nesting native bird
populations as they can aggressively compete for the same nest
sites. They are also considered pests by some farmers and city
managers. As with all introduced species, conservation
concerns focus on the potential impacts on native birds.
The European Starling does not breed at Colony Farm. Low
capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per
100 net hours) in February and again in June, July and
August occur during winter flocking and dispersal of young
from nearby residential areas.