The European Starling, also called the Common Starling, is a medium-sized passerine bird that is first brought to North America by Shakespeare fanatics in the 19th century. It is approximately 8 inches long and has a shiny black plumage, which has some white spotting on some parts of the year. Although it is occasionally begrudged for its abundant numbers and fierceness, it is still a wonderful bird with its own beautiful characteristics.
It is a broad and sturdily built blackbird with a short tail, triangular wings, and an extended, sharp bill. When flying, its wings are short and sharp, making them appear like little, four-pointed stars.
When observed from afar, it looks entirely black. During summer, its plumage turns purplish-green iridescent, while its bill turns yellowish. During winter, the plumage becomes brownish, with some dazzling white spots, and its bill turns blackish. The bird has pinkish legs.
Juvenile birds have a comparably browner plumage than the adults.
Distribution and Habitat
The bird prefers urban or suburban areas where there is abundance of structures that give it adequate nesting and roosting locations. It also loves reed beds for roosting, as well as open, grassy areas for foraging and feeding. It avoids large, unbroken extensions of forest, chaparral, and desert.
It is usually observed in towns, suburbs, and countryside areas that are close to human habitats. It feeds on the ground on lawns, fields, sidewalks, and parking lots. It also perches and roosts on high elevations such as wires, trees and buildings. Sometimes, it visits open forests and woodlands.
With its abundant population, the species is quite widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, specifically, northern populations have grown into a migration pattern, moving out of Canada in winter. The Starlings in the eastern side of the country move southwards, and those from the west spend the winter in the southwest regions of the United States.
The diet of European Starlings primarily consists of insects – both pets and arthropods. Some of these include spiders, crane flies, moths, mayflies, dragonflies and bees. They also feed on earthworms, snails, small amphibians and lizards. Aside from the insects, they also eat grains, seeds, fruits, nectar, and sometimes, food waste.
They obtain the food primarily by foraging close to the ground. They prefer to forage among short-cropped grasses, and are usually found feeding on the external parasites on the backs of grazing animals.
The European Starling is a rowdy bird, especially in sociable situations. It also travels in groups along with other species, especially blackbirds and grackles. The size of the flock varies. Some experts suggest that this grouping of birds is a defense mechanism against attacks by birds like peregrine falcons or Eurasian sparrowhawks. Also, the Starlings’ presence in flocks reveals the different ways that it uses in communicating with its neighbors.
It runs across fields with its bill pointed towards the ground, searching for food in the grass. It often forages with other species like cowbirds, grackles, House Sparrows and American Robins. When there are confrontations between birds, they would stab each other with their long bills.
Sometimes, it is seen sitting high on wires or trees while creating different kinds of noise, from rattles to whirrs and whistles. It would produce an unmusical but diverse song. Males use this musicality in courting females, singing near a nest location that they have claimed. After which, they would flap their wings in circles at the same time. After the pairing, males follow the females everywhere they go, chasing away other males.
This aggressiveness is also manifested when they drive off other species from the nest locations that they want to utilize. Some of the species that they chase off are Wood Ducks, Northern Flickers, and Eastern Bluebirds.
Males start constructing the nest before mating happens. They use their chosen nest location in attracting females. They fill the cavity with grass and pine needles, as well as feathers, trash, cloth and string. They build the cup near the depression at the rear end of the cavity, and line it with feathers, fine bark, leaves and grass. Females do the final touching. The nest construction period could take about 1-3 days. Both males and females participate in incubating the eggs for about 12 days.
The average size of the clutch is 3 to 6 eggs, and the number of broods is about 1 to 2. The nestling period for these eggs run up to 21 to 23 days.
The European Starling is listed under the ‘Least Concern’ category of the IUCN Red List.
It is quite abundant and is widespread throughout its breeding range. However, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the species’ population has declined by a cumulative loss of 41 percent between the years 1966 and 2010.
The estimated global breeding population of the European Starling is 150 million, with 31 percent being residents of the U.S., 8 percent living in Canada, and 1 percent living in Mexico. It has a 7 over 20 rating on the Continental Concern Score and is not included in the 2012 Watch List.
The arrival of the Starlings to North America has given rise to a mounting competition over nest cavities. The European Starlings steal the nests of resident birds, expelling the owners. While some suggest that the abundance of the Starlings may pose significant threats to the populations of native birds, a 2003 study has found that only few were actually affected by the species’ arrival in the region. As a matter of fact, only the sapsuckers’ numbers have declined. The other species have shown to hold their territories against invaders.