European Starling

(Sturnus vulgaris)



There are more than 200 million European starlings in North America.

Descendants from 60 to 100 birds released in Central Park, New York by Mr. Eugene Schieffelin.

He was president of the infamous American Acclimatization Society which tried to introduce every bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to North America in 1890, and this turned into a terrible environmental disaster.

The starling is a medium-sized, black songbird with short, triangular wings, spotted plumage, and a short tail.

The adult in breeding plumage has a distinctive thin, pointed, yellow bill and black, speckled plumage with purple-green iridescence.

The non-breeding adult has a black beak and light spots.

Juveniles are drab gray-brown overall.

Males and females look pretty much alike.

European starling

Habitat:

Starlings are typically associated with disturbed areas and human-altered settings. They can be found in practically all habitats, with the exception of large tracts of undisturbed forests and undeveloped alpine areas.

They usually forage in open areas, especially lawns, agricultural fields, or other developed areas, but require nearby nesting cavities.

European Starling Behavior:

European Starlings tend to form flocks year round, but flocks are generally larger and often huge in fall and winter. They often forage with other species, including Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, American Robins, House Sparrows, Crows, and Rock pigeons.

When foraging, they generally walk or run along the ground and probe the soil with their bills (most other species of birds hop around), looking for food.

Starlings tend to be more aggressive than our native birds, and will persistently harass other species to take over nesting cavities. This also includes killing native bird babies and destroying eggs.

They will also mob predators in flight, gathering into tight flocks and dive-bombing a hawk or other predator. Starlings are intelligent and adaptable, and are capable mimics.

Diet:

Starlings eat a diverse, omnivorous diet of invertebrates, berries and other fruit, grains, and seeds. They commonly come to seed and suet feeders.

Pay Attention to This:

They have a rather unique bill design, where the strength is in opening, not closing. This design is to pull open grass and soil to look for small seeds and insects. In the spring and fall, you may see hundreds of little holes in your lawn where these birds have foraged.

Disdain of the species may be tempered by knowledge of its biology.

Take, for example, its bill.

Unlike most of the 130-member starling family, the European Starling has jaw muscles that work "backward." Instead of using most of their power to clamp the bill shut, these muscles use it to spring the bill open. Thus the bill functions not just to grip prey but also to pry apart obscuring plants.

The closed bill is inserted between blades of grass in thick turf or other cover, and then sprung open to expose hidden prey. As the bill opens, the eyes move forward toward each other, permitting binocular vision. This readily observed foraging technique enables the starling to detect not only active prey but also dormant or stationary prey, as well.

William Beecher, who made this discovery during a seven-year study of songbird head musculature and skull adaptations, suggests that this unique hunting maneuver was also key to the high rate of survival of starlings during winter.

This bill design does have a human benefit. The bill is designed to rake open grasses and forage for insects and small seeds.

WHO KNEW?

European starling

Now pay attention here.

Because of this, a starling bill lacks the strength to crush or crack open hard shelled seeds like sunflower and safflower seeds.

To deter these birds from cleaning out your feeders, offer straight Black Oil Sunflower seed in the shell or Safflower seed.

Most song birds enjoy Black Oil Sunflower Seed, yet starlings can't manage them.

Your song birds will indeed thank you.

Nesting:

European starlings are generally monogamous,
but can be polygamous.

They begin nesting early in the breeding

season. Males establish territories and choose nest sites, then attract females. Starlings are cavity nesters, and nests are generally located in natural hollows, old woodpecker holes, birdhouses, or building eaves and crevices.

Both adults help brood the young and bring food to the nest.

The young leave the nest after about three weeks. The parents may continue to feed the young for a day or two after they fledge, but the young can forage on their own at that time. If this is the first brood, the female typically starts laying a second brood shortly after the first one fledges.

The male may provide support for up to 12 days after the young leave the nest, and the young often join other newly fledged young on communal roosts.

Migration Status:

European starlings appear to be partially migratory, but patterns vary regionally and individually. Many birds move into valleys and urban areas during the winter.

Conservation Status:

It is hard to imagine now, but European Starlings were purposefully introduced into the United States from Europe. The effort failed twice before a successful introduction of about 60 birds was made in New York City's Central Park in 1890.

Those birds reproduced and spread quickly across developed and other human-altered habitats.

Starlings were first recorded along the West coast in 1943, only 53 years later and are now one of the most common birds in North America.

European starlings have had a strong negative impact on many cavity-nesting birds, Bluebirds, Woodpeckers, and Purple Martins among them. A number of control methods have been proposed, but as yet no successful, cost-effective,
sustainable methods have been discovered.

Being an introduced species starlings are exempt from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Starlings are among the worst nuisance species in North America. The birds travel in enormous flocks; pose danger to air travel; disrupt farms; displace native birds; and roost on city blocks.

Corrosive droppings on structures cause hundreds of millions of dollars of yearly damage.

In 2008 the U.S. government poisoned, shot or trapped 1.7 million, the most of any nuisance species.

European Starlings and Other Common Birds

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