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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

European Starling

Sturnus vulgaris ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: STURNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

European Starling Photo

First brought to North America by Shakespeare enthusiasts in the nineteenth century, European Starlings are now among the continent’s most numerous songbirds. They are stocky black birds with short tails, triangular wings, and long, pointed bills. Though they’re sometimes resented for their abundance and aggressiveness, they’re still dazzling birds when you get a good look. Covered in white spots during winter, they turn dark and glossy in summer. For much of the year, they wheel through the sky and mob lawns in big, noisy flocks.

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Keys to identification Help

Blackbirdlike
Blackbirdlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Starlings are chunky and blackbird-sized, but with short tails and long, slender beaks. In flight their wings are short and pointed, making them look rather like small, four-pointed stars (and giving them their name).

  • Color Pattern

    At a distance, starlings look black. In summer they are purplish-green iridescent with yellow beaks; in fresh winter plumage they are brown, covered in brilliant white spots.

  • Behavior

    Starlings are boisterous, loud, and they travel in large groups (often with blackbirds and grackles). They race across fields, beak down and probing the grass for food; or they sit high on wires or trees making a constant stream of rattles, whirrs, and whistles.

  • Habitat

    Starlings are common in towns, suburbs, and countryside near human settlements. They feed on the ground on lawns, fields, sidewalks, and parking lots. They perch and roost high on wires, trees, and buildings.

Range Map Help

European Starling Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult breeding

    European Starling

    Adult breeding
    • Overall glossy black, showing iridescent purple and green
    • Pale spots on back
    • Brownish wings
    • Yellow bill with bluish base
    • © lee.karney2, San Francisco, California, June 2006
  • Adult nonbreeding

    European Starling

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Overall glossy black, showing iridescent purple and green
    • Bright white spots all over
    • Short, square tail
    • Black and white undertail
    • © Robinsegg, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 2008
  • Juvenile

    European Starling

    Juvenile
    • Dull grayish brown overall
    • Short tail, fairly long wings
    • Straight, black bill
    • © JoanGeeAZ, Tucson, Arizona, May 2008
  • Transitional juvenile

    European Starling

    Transitional juvenile
    • Gray-brown head retained temporarily by juveniles molting into adult plumage
    • Body plumage similar to adult
    • © Cheri Fisher, August 2005
  • Adult nonbreeding

    European Starling

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Overall glossy, iridescent black
    • Bright white spots all over
    • Bill yellow or black in nonbreeding plumage
    • © J.M. Kosciw, Tolland Co, Connecticut, February 2007
  • Adult nonbreeding

    European Starling

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Pale spots on face
    • Straight, black bill
    • Nests and roosts in cavities
    • © JoanGeeAZ, Tucson, Arizona, October 2008
  • Adult transitional

    European Starling

    Adult transitional
    • White feather tips wear off to give breeding plumage; birds are often seen partway through this transition
    • Short tail, fairly long wings
    • Yellow bill with bluish base
    • © Sam Wilson, Scottsdale, Arizona, January 2009
  • Adult breeding

    European Starling

    Adult breeding
    • Overall glossy black, showing iridescent purple and green
    • Yellow bill with bluish base
    • Pink legs
    • © Sam Wilson, Scottsdale, Arizona, April 2008
  • Adult transitional

    European Starling

    Adult transitional
    • Overall glossy black, showing iridescent purple and green
    • Some white spots retained from nonbreeding plumage
    • © Sam Wilson, Scottsdale, Arizona, February 2007
  • Adult nonbreeding

    European Starling

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Overall glossy black
    • Bright white spots all over
    • Face with dense spotting, appearing pale
    • Black bill (may be yellow later in winter)
    • © Seth Reams, Portland, Oregon, December 2008
  • Adult breeding

    European Starling

    Adult breeding
    • Overall glossy black, showing iridescent purple and green
    • Sleek, compact shape
    • Short, square tail
    • Black and white undertail
    • © Donald Metzner, December 2008
  • Adult transitional

    European Starling

    Adult transitional
    • Some white spots retained from nonbreeding plumage
    • © Kevin Carver, December 2005
  • Adults nonbreeding

    European Starling

    Adults nonbreeding
    • Glossy black overall with bright white spots
    • Brownish wings
    • © Rebecca Covert, December 2005
  • Adults nonbreeding

    European Starling

    Adults nonbreeding
    • Congregate in large flocks
    • © David F. Smith, January 2008
  • Adults

    European Starling

    Adults
    • Gray wing and tail feathers contrast with black body
    • Short tail, pointed wings
    • © Jeff & Cheryl Hurd, Horseheads, New York, March 2006
  • Adult nonbreeding

    European Starling

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Overall glossy black, showing iridescent purple and green
    • Bright white spots all over
    • © L. Massman, June 2008

Similar Species

Similar Species

Starlings are a similar size and color to blackbirds, cowbirds, and grackles, but they’re a very different shape. They have much shorter tails, more pointed wings, and the bill is longer, straighter, and thinner. In summer, starlings have yellow bills, which blackbirds never have.

Find This Bird

Starlings are common around cities and towns. Look in lawns, city parks and squares, and fields. They’ll be working their way across the grass, often moving in a slight zig-zag line and seeming to hurry as they stab their bills into the ground every step or two. In the countryside you’re more likely to see starlings perched in groups at the tops of trees or flying over fields or roads in tight flocks.

Get Involved

You can help scientists learn more about this species by participating in the Celebrate Urban Birds! project

View and sort images of nesting starlings online with CamClickr to help scientists archive data from our NestCams

If you have a bird using a nest box, report nesting activity to NestWatch

You Might Also Like

A Darwinian Dance: Starlings and Falcons engage in an age-old aerial ballet. Story and Photographs in Living Bird magazine.

Visit the NestCams archives for a close-up view of starlings in their nest

Foiling Starlings at Feeders

Q & A: "There's a huge starling roost near my house and they're driving us nuts!"

All About Birds blog, Not Just Sparrows and Pigeons: Cities Harbor 20 Percent of World’s Bird Species, April 29, 2014.