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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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Songs

Starlings are relatives of the mynah birds, and like them they have impressive vocal abilities and a gift for mimicry. They can warble, whistle, chatter, make smooth liquid sounds, harsh trills and rattles, and imitate meadowlarks, jays, and hawks. The songs tend to consist of either loud whistles or softer, jumbled warbling. Whistled songs are a few seconds long, often used between males. Warbled songs can go on for more than a minute, and seem mainly directed at females. Males sing several varieties of each of these two classes of songs. Females also sing, particularly in the fall. Songs often include imitations of other birds, including Eastern Wood-Pewee, Killdeer, meadowlarks, Northern Bobwhite, Brown-headed Cowbird, Northern Flicker, and others.

Calls

Male and female starlings use about 10 kinds of calls to communicate about where they are, whether there’s danger around, and how aggressive or agitated they feel. Among these are a purr-like call given as the bird takes flight, and a rattle that starlings make as they join a flock on the ground. Two types of screamlike calls indicate aggression and are often accompanied by flapping wings: one is a chattering call (described as chackerchackerchacker); the other is a high-pitched trill. Starlings also make metallic chip notes to other flock members and when harassing or mobbing predators.

Other Sounds

Male starlings sometimes clack or rattle their bills as part of their warbled song.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.