Starlings typically live around people, using mowed lawns, city streets, and agricultural fields for feeding; and trees, buildings, and other structures for nesting. Their main requirements are open, grassy areas in which to forage, a water source, and trees or buildings that contain suitable cavities or niches for nesting. They avoid large, unbroken stretches of forest, chaparral, and desert.Back to top
Starlings will eat nearly anything, but they focus on insects and other invertebrates when they’re available. Common prey include grasshoppers, beetles, flies, caterpillars, snails, earthworms, millipedes, and spiders. They also eat fruits including wild and cultivated cherries, holly berries, hackberries, mulberries, tupelo, Virginia creeper, sumac, and blackberries; as well as grains, seeds, nectar, livestock feed, and garbage.Back to top
Males choose the nest site and use it to attract females. The nests are virtually always in a cavity, typically in a building or other structure (look for them in streetlights and traffic signal supports), an old woodpecker hole, or a nest box. Starlings also occasionally nest in burrows and cliffs. Nest holes are typically 10-25 feet off the ground but can be up to 60 feet high.
Male starlings begin building the nest before mating takes place, filling the cavity with grass and pine needles, along with feathers, trash, cloth, and string. There’s a depression near the back of the cavity where the cup is built and lined with feathers, fine bark, leaves, and grass. Females oversee the final arrangements and may discard some of the material the male added. Starlings also add fresh green plants to the nest throughout the nesting period, particularly during laying and incubation. Nests can be built in as little as 1-3 days. Both sexes incubate the eggs.
|Clutch Size:||3-6 eggs|
|Number of Broods:||1-2 broods|
|Egg Length:||1.1-1.3 in (2.7-3.2 cm)|
|Egg Width:||0.8-0.9 in (1.9-2.3 cm)|
|Incubation Period:||12 days|
|Nestling Period:||21-23 days|
|Egg Description:||Bluish or greenish white.|
|Condition at Hatching:||Helpless, with sparse grayish down. Newly hatched starlings weigh about 6.4 grams. The eyes stay closed for 6-7 days.|
Starlings forage in lawns, fields, and other open areas with short vegetation. They wander over the ground, often quite rapidly, poking their closed bill into the ground and using their strong jaw muscles to force open the bill and search for soil insects and other invertebrates. They often forage with other species, including grackles, cowbirds, blackbirds, House Sparrows, Rock Pigeons, American Robins, and American Crows. Watching starlings in flocks can reveal several ways that these gregarious birds communicate with their neighbors. Starlings signal agitation by flicking their wings, or by staring at their opponents while standing erect, fluffing their feathers, and raising the feathers of the head. Submissive birds crouch and move away with their feathers sleeked. Confrontations can escalate into birds charging at each other and stabbing with their long bills. Birds on wires may push others away by sidling along the perch until they’ve run out of room. Males attract mates by singing near a nest site they’ve claimed and flapping their wings in circles at the same time. After they’ve paired, males follow their mates everywhere, chasing off other males. Starlings are extremely aggressive birds that drive other species from nest sites they want to use. Among the species they’ve chased off are Wood Ducks, Buffleheads, Northern Flickers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds.Back to top
European Starlings are common and widespread, but their populations have decreased by over 1% per year for a cumulative decline of about 50% between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population to be 250 million and rates them 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Starlings are a fairly recent and extremely successful arrival to North America and are fierce competitors for nest cavities. Starlings often take over the nests of native birds, expelling the occupants. With so many starlings around, there is concern about their effect on native bird populations. Nevertheless, a study in 2003 found few actual effects on populations of 27 native species. Only sapsuckers showed declines due to starlings; other species appeared to be holding their own against the invaders.Back to top
Cabe, Paul R. (1993). European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.
Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.
Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.
Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.
Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.
Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.