Banded 12 December, 1998 - Carmel, Indiana
The European Starling, native to Eurasia, has the dubious distinction of
being one of the most successful birds introduced to North America. This,
and several other misguided bird introductions, were an effort to introduce
into North America all of the birds mentioned in the writings of William
From 100 individuals released in 1890-91 in Central Park in New York
City, an estimated 200 million birds are now found over most of North
America, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean. Their range expanded to the
midwest by 1930, reached the Rocky Mountains by 1940, and the west coast by
the 1960’s (Cabe1993).
The starling is an intelligent, attractive, and interesting bird, but it
has a significant negative impact on native species, and its habit of
forming large wintering flocks often make it an unwelcome pest.
The European Starling has a
glossy black plumage with greenish and purple iridescence. White tips
predominate on the contour feathers following their annual molt. These white
tips gradually wear off by the following spring, giving the bird an overall
glossy black look. Starlings are 7.5 to 8.7 inches long with a wingspan of
15.5 inches. Weights range from 2.5 to 3 ounces.
Figure 1 - European Starling
Figure 2 - European Starling
Most birds have strong muscles
that snap the bill shut, but the starling is different. Its strong muscles
act to open the bill. This adaptation enables the bird to probe into grass,
weeds or soil, and then open the bill to force aside the weeds to look for
insect foods. At the same time, its eyes rotate forward allowing it to
search for food directly in front of its bill. In the spring, the bill of
the starling is yellow, but it becomes dark in the winter.
Starlings are distantly related
to mockingbirds and Mynas, and will mimic other sounds. The ancient Romans
taught them to mimic human speech. They are often heard sitting in a tree
making a series of chirps, creaks, chatters, and rising whistles, and
occasionally calls of other birds such as the killdeer, flicker, Wood Pewee,
Figure 3 - European Starling
Figure 4 - Starling upper wing
Starlings are attractively
patterned over the body and wing. The greater coverts of adult birds have
Studies using x-ray film show
that in flight, a starling breaths 3 times a second, and its wishbone acts
like a spring, bending and recoiling by almost 50% percent. (Ehrlich et al.
Figure 5 - Starling breast and under wing
Figure 6 - Starling tail
The shape and color of their
tail feathers, and the length of the iridescence on the throat feathers, are
useful to determine the age and sex of a starling (Pyle 2001). The central
tail feathers of the adult have cinnamon terminal edging and a well defined
black subterminal band. A young bird (shown here) has buff edging and an
indistinct black subterminal band.
Starlings are highly social
birds. At any time of the year, they can be found feeding, migrating or
roosting in flocks. The winter flock shown here, consisting of at least
3,000 birds, was located in downtown Indianapolis. Starlings have a well
developed sense of taste, and are repelled by grape flavoring. Fogging with
grape flavoring is an effective an environmentally safe method to discourage
these birds from roosting.
Figure 7 - Starling winter roost
Figure 8 - Starling winter roost
Winter roosts of large number
of starlings or other species of birds produce lots of droppings and a real
mess. Accumulations of bird droppings enrich the soil and promote the growth
of a naturally occurring soil fungus called Histoplasma capsulatum. When
enriched soil or accumulations of bird droppings containing the fungal
spores is disturbed, the spores become airborne, and when inhaled, can cause
the disease Histoplasmosis.
Histoplasma is found worldwide,
but studies show that in some areas in the east and central part of the USA,
up to 80% of the population show Histoplasmin hypersensitivity, indicating
previous exposure to the spores (Benenson 1995). In the Ohio Valley, large
outbreaks of Histoplasmosis have historically occurred.
Starlings are cavity nesters,
and will use a natural cavity in a tree, a woodpecker hole, an opening in a
building, a ventilation pipe or a nest box. The nest, started by the male
before pairing, is made of leaves, stems, and other plant material. The nest
is kept fastidiously clean at first, but is allowed to get dirty and riddled
with nest parasites before the young birds fledge.
pairing, the female completes the nest. From 5 to 7 pale blue eggs,
incubated by both the male and female, hatch in about 12 to 15 days. Young
fledge in another 20 to 22 days, and depend on parents for food for a few
days after leaving the nest. Two or three broods are fledged each season (Baicich
and Harrison 1997).
Figure 9 - Starling eggs in nest
According the the web page of the Bird Banding Lab, 654,751 starlings
were banded between 1955 and 2000.
Banding studies show that European Starlings can live up to 21 years in
the wild, and show site fidelity to breeding locations. Banded starlings in
Europe were instrumental in early studies on migration of birds in Europe,
and helped unravel some of the mysteries of bird migration and navigation.
If you should recover a banded bird, please report the band number to the
Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.
Economic Importance and Conservation Status
Starling populations are doing extremely well, and their range is
continuing to expand. From a pest control perspective, they are highly
beneficial. They consume large numbers of clover beetles, cutworms, Japanese
beetles, grasshoppers, ants, bees, wasps, and other insects. They also will
eat garbage, and because they add fruits such as cherries and wild fruits to
their diet, they can become an agricultural pest.
They will readily eat suet provided for woodpeckers, and that leads us to
another downside of Starlings. Starlings are cavity breeders, and are
aggressive competitors against native species of birds, especially cavity
nesting birds such as flickers, bluebirds and the Great Crested Flycatcher.
Many attempts have been made to control starling populations, including
shooting, trapping, broadcasting alarm calls, and the use of pesticides, but
it is clear that starlings have found a permanent home in North America.
Baicich, P. J. and C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs
and nestlings of North American birds. 2nd ed. Academic Press, New York.
Benenson, A. S. ed. 1995. Control of communicable diseases manual, 16th
Ed. American Public Health Association, Washington D.C.
Cabe, P. R. 1993. European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). In The birds of
North America, No. 48 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The
Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists’
Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, D. Wheye, and S. L. Pimm. 1994. The
birdwatcher’s handbook. A guide to the natural history of the birds of
Britain and Europe. Oxford University Press, New York.
Pyle, P. 2001. Identification guide to North American birds. Slate Creek
Press, Bolinas, CA.
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