European Starling

Sturnus vulgaris

Beginning with 100 individuals introduced into Central Park in New York City in the early 1890s, the European Starling has become one of the most numerous birds on the North American continent. Its successful spread is believed to have come at the expense of many native birds that compete with the starling for nest holes.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • All the European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds released in New York's Central Park in the early 1890s. A group dedicated to introducing America to all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works set the birds free. Today, European Starlings range from Alaska to Florida and northern Mexico, and their population is estimated at over 200 million birds.
  • Although the sexes look very similar, they do show some subtle differences. The male tends to be larger, more iridescent, and have longer throat feathers, but some females can be larger, more glossy, and have longer feathers than some males. During breeding when they have yellow bills, the base of a male's lower mandible is blue-gray, while the female's is pinkish. The male's eyes are a uniform deep brown, but the female has a narrow, lighter colored ring around the outer edge. In confusing cases, some males four years old or older can develop a faint ring in the eye, and some older females can lose it.
  • A female European Starling may try to lay an egg in the nest of another female. A female that tries this parasitic tactic often is one that could not get a mate early in the breeding season. The best females find mates and start laying early. The longer it takes to get started, the lower the probability of a nest's success. Those parasitic females may be trying to enhance their own breeding efforts during the time that they cannot breed on their own.

Description

  • Size: 20-23 cm (8-9 in)
  • Wingspan: 31-40 cm (12-16 in)
  • Weight: 60-96 g (2.12-3.39 ounces)
  • Stocky, black bird.
  • Short, square-tipped tail.
  • Pointed, triangular wings.
  • Long pointed bill, yellow in breeding season.
  • Shimmering green and purple feathers in spring.
  • Wings black with brown edges.
  • Body feathers long, thin, and pointed.
  • Undertail feathers broadly edged in white.
  • Eyes dark brown.
  • Legs reddish brown.
Breeding (Alternate) Plumage:Head and body black with purple and green sheen. Some buff spotting on back and undersides. Bill yellow.
Winter (Basic) Plumage: Feathers glossy black heavily spotted with cream or white spots on tips. Bill dark gray-brown or black.
 
Sex Differences
Sexes similar.
 
Immature
Juvenile drab gray-brown all over, shaped like adult. In the fall, molting birds may have patches of gray and black.

 

Range Map
 
Taxonomic Hierarchy

Spotted_Sandpiper_AllAm

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Sturnidae
Genus: Sturnus
Species: Sturnus vulgaris
     Subspecies:
  • Sturnus vulgaris vulgaris
Sound
Song is a rather quiet series of rattles and whistled notes, often containing mimicry of other bird species. Flight call a purring "prurrp."

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
Body
  • Length Range: 22 cm (8.5 in)
  • Weight: 85 g (3 oz)
  • Size: 2. Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Black, Sheen or Iridescence
  • Underparts: White flecked black.
  • Upperparts: White flecked black.
  • Back Pattern: Spotted or speckled, Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
 
Head
  • Bill Shape: All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Dark brown.
  • Head Pattern: Plain, Spotted
  • Crown Color: White flecked black with iridescent sheen.
  • Forehead Color: Black with iridescent sheen.
  • Nape Color: White flecked black with iridescent sheen.
  • Throat Color: White flecked black with iridescent sheen.
  • Cere color: No Data
Flight
  • Flight Pattern: Swift direct flight with rapid wing beats.
  • Wingspan Range: 39 cm (15.5 in)
  • Wing Shape: Tapered-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Squared Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: White flecked black with iridescent sheen.
  • Under Tail: White flecked black with iridescent sheen.
  • Leg Color: Pink-gray
Breeding
  • Breeding Location: Open landscapes, Grassland with scattered trees, Marshes, freshwater, Swamps
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Loose colonies
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common to common
  • Egg Color: Pale blue or green, sometimes marked with brown
  • Number of Eggs: 4 - 8
  • Incubation Days: 12 - 14
  • Egg Incubator: Both sexes
  • Nest Material: Grass, twigs, forbs, rootlets, and straw.
  • Migration: Northern birds migrate
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless, with sparse grayish down. Chicks fledge in 21-23 days.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • L'étourneau sansonnet (French)
  • Estornino pinto (Spanish)
  • Blackbirds have slimmer bodies, longer tails, and shorter, thicker bills. No blackbird has a yellow bill or pale legs.
  • Juvenile and female Brown-headed Cowbirds are colored very similarly to a juvenile starling. The cowbird has a longer tail, a slimmer body, and a much stouter and shorter bill.

Conservation Status

Introduced into North America in the 1890s, the European Starling quickly spread across the continent. It is a fierce competitor for nest cavities, and frequently expels native bird species. It is believed to be responsible for a decline in native cavity-nesting bird populations, but a study in 2003 found few actual effects on populations of 27 native species. Only sapsuckers showed declines because of starlings, and other species appeared to be holding their own against the invaders. You can help scientists learn more about this species by participating in the Celebrate Urban Birds! project.

Habitat

Sources used to Construct this Page:

Uses a variety of habitats with open country, fields, and trees for nesting; especially near people in agricultural and urban areas.
  • Cabe, P. R. 1993. European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). In The Birds of North America, No. 48 (A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
  • Koenig, W. D. 2003. European Starlings and their effect on native cavity-nesting birds. Conservation Bioloy 17: 1134-1140.
  • Sandell, M. I., and M. Diemer. 1999. Intraspecific brood parasitism: a strategy for floating females in the European starling. Animal Behaviour 57: 197-202.
Food
Broad diet of many kinds of invertebrates, fruits, grains, seeds, and garbage.
Behavior
Forages in open, grassy areas. Feeds in large flocks, often with blackbird species.

Adult Sexes Similar

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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar

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Adult Breeding
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Videos
European Starling
 
 

All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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