Celebrate Urban Birds
Living Bird Magazine
European StarlingSturnus vulgaris
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Sturnidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Estornino Pinto (Spanish)
- Étourneau sansonnet (French)
This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- All the European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds set loose in New York's Central Park in the early 1890s. The birds were intentionally released by a group who wanted America to have all the birds that Shakespeare ever mentioned. It took several tries, but eventually the population took off. Today, more than 200 million European Starlings range from Alaska to Mexico, and many people consider them pests.
- Because of their recent arrival in North America, all of our starlings are closely related. Genetically, individuals from Virginia are nearly indistinguishable from starlings sampled in California, 3,000 miles away. Such little genetic variation often spells trouble for rare species, but seems to offer no ill effects to starlings so far.
- Starlings are great vocal mimics: individuals can learn the calls of up to 20 different species. Birds whose songs starlings often copy include the Eastern Wood-Pewee, Killdeer, meadowlarks, Northern Bobwhite, Wood Thrush, Red-tailed Hawk, American Robin, Northern Flicker, and many others.
- Starlings turn from spotted and white to glossy and dark each year without shedding their feathers. The new feathers they grow in fall have bold white tips – that’s what gives them their spots. By spring, these tips have worn away, and the rest of the feather is dark and iridescent brown. It’s an unusual changing act that scientists term “wear molt.”
- Starlings are strong fliers that can get up to speeds of 48 mph.
- In studies of starlings’ sense of taste, scientists have discovered that they can taste salt, sugars, citric acid, and tannins (bitter compounds that occur in many fruits, including acorns and grapes). They can tell the difference between sucrose (table sugar) and other kinds of sugars – helpful since starlings lack the ability to digest sucrose.
- 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.
- The oldest recorded wild European Starling in North America was a male and was at least 15 years, 3 months old when he died in Tennessee in 1972. He had been banded in the same state in 1958.