European StarlingSturnus vulgaris

adult, breeding
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult, breeding
Rob Curtis/VIREO
juvenile
Laure W. Neish/VIREO

Description

Often regarded as a pest, the Starling wins our grudging admiration for its adaptability, toughness, and seeming intelligence. Brought to North America in 1890, it has spread to occupy most of the continent, and is now abundant in many areas. Sociable at most seasons, Starlings may gather in immense flocks in fall and winter. When the flocks break up for the breeding season, males reveal a skill for mimicry, interrupting their wheezing and sputtering songs with perfect imitations of other birds.

Habitat

Cities, parks, farms, open groves, fields. Most numerous in farm country and in suburbs and cities, but inhabits almost any kind of disturbed habitat. Usually scarce or absent in extensive wild areas of forest, scrub, or desert, but will breed around buildings or settlements in the midst of such habitats.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects, berries, and seeds. Diet is quite varied. Eats mostly insects when available, especially beetles, grasshoppers, flies, and caterpillars, also spiders, snails, earthworms, and other invertebrates. Especially in fall and winter, eats a wide variety of berries, fruits, and seeds. Sometimes visits flowers for nectar. Will come to bird feeders for a variety of items.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground in open areas, often probing in soil with bill. Sometimes feeds on fruit up in trees, and sometimes catches flying insects in the air. Usually forages in flocks.

Nesting

Male establishes territory and chooses nest site, singing to attract a mate. When a female arrives, male perches next to nest site and sings, often waving his wings. Male sometimes has more than one mate. Nest site is in any kind of cavity; usually in natural hollow or woodpecker hole in tree, in birdhouse, or (in southwest) in hole in giant cactus. Sometimes in holes or crevices in buildings or other odd spots. Nest construction begun by male, often completed by female (who may throw out some of male's nest material). Nest is a loose mass of twigs, weeds, grass, leaves, trash, feathers, with slight depression for eggs. Eggs: 4-6, rarely 7. Greenish white to bluish white, unmarked. Incubation is by both parents (female does more), about 12 days. Starlings sometimes lay eggs in each other's nests. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 21 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.

Eggs

4-6, rarely 7. Greenish white to bluish white, unmarked. Incubation is by both parents (female does more), about 12 days. Starlings sometimes lay eggs in each other's nests. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 21 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.

Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 21 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.

Conservation

Undoubtedly has had a negative impact on some native hole-nesting birds, such as bluebirds and Red-headed Woodpeckers, competing with them for nesting sites.

Range

Southern birds may be permanent residents, while many (but not all) northern birds move south in fall. Migrates mostly by day.

Listen

song #1
wheezy sounds & other calls
immature call
song #2

Similar Species

adult

American Dipper

This distinctive bird is locally common along rushing streams in the West, especially in high mountains. It is usually seen bobbing up and down on a rock in mid-stream, or flying low over the water, following the winding course of a creek rather than taking overland shortcuts. The song and callnotes of the Dipper are loud, audible above the roar of the water.

adult

Gray Catbird

Rather plain but with lots of personality, the Gray Catbird often hides in the shrubbery, making an odd variety of musical and harsh sounds -- including the catlike mewing responsible for its name. At other times it moves about boldly in the open, jerking its long tail expressively. Most catbirds winter in the southern United States or the tropics, but a few linger far to the north if they have access to a reliable source of berries or a well-stocked bird feeder.

adult

Cedar Waxwing

With thin, lisping cries, flocks of Cedar Waxwings descend on berry-laden trees and hedges, to flutter among the branches as they feast. These birds are sociable at all seasons, and it is rare to see just one waxwing. Occasionally a line of waxwings perched on a branch will pass a berry back and forth, from bill to bill, until one of them swallows it. This species has a more southerly range than the Bohemian Waxwing, and is a familiar visitor to most parts of this continent south of the Arctic.

Bohemian Waxwing

During summer in Alaska and western Canada, scattered Bohemian Waxwings may be seen perching on spruce tops and flying out to catch insects in mid-air. In winter these same birds become sociable nomads, with large flocks wandering the northwest in search of berries. Sometimes they stray as far east as New England, but in most areas their numbers are quite variable from year to year (the name "Bohemian" reflects their unconventional and seemingly carefree lifestyle).

adult male

Red-winged Blackbird

Among our most familiar birds, Red-wings seem to sing their nasal songs in every marsh and wet field from coast to coast. They are notably bold, and several will often attack a larger bird, such as a hawk or crow, that flies over their nesting area. The red shoulder patches of the male, hidden under body feathers much of the time, are brilliantly displayed when he is singing. Outside the nesting season, Red-wings sometimes roost in huge concentrations.

adult male

Tricolored Blackbird

While the Red-winged Blackbird is abundant over most of the continent, the very similar Tricolored Blackbird has a very small range in the Pacific states. It differs in its highly social nesting: in a dense cattail marsh, nests may be packed in close together, only a foot or two apart. Some colonies may have over 100,000 nests, although such large concentrations seem to be growing scarcer in recent years, as the birds shift to smaller (but hopefully more) colonies.

adult male, breeding

Rusty Blackbird

Birders might say that this blackbird is rusty because it spends so much time in the water. In migration and winter it is usually in swampy places, wading in very shallow water at the edges of wooded streams. In summer it retires to northern spruce bogs; no other blackbird has such a northerly breeding distribution. The name "Rusty" applies to the colors of fall birds, but it could also describe the rusty-hinge sound of the creaking song.

adult male

Brewer's Blackbird

This is the common blackbird of open country in the West, often seen walking on the ground with short forward jerks of its head. It adapts well to habitats altered by humans, and in places it may walk about on suburban sidewalks or scavenge for crumbs around beachfront restaurants. In winter, Brewer's Blackbirds gather in large flocks, often with other blackbirds, and may be seen foraging in farmland all across the western and southern states.

adult male, Eastern

Bronzed Cowbird

Larger than the Brown-headed Cowbird and mostly restricted to the Southwest, this species is another brood parasite. It may be more specialized in its choice of "hosts," and is thought to have seriously affected populations of some species, such as Hooded Orioles in southern Texas. The Bronzed Cowbird has expanded its range in our area during the last century; in Arizona, where it is now common, it was unrecorded before 1909.

adult male

Brown-headed Cowbird

Centuries ago this bird probably followed bison herds on the Great Plains, feeding on insects flushed from the grass by the grazers. Today it follows cattle, and occurs abundantly from coast to coast. Its spread has represented bad news for other songbirds: Cowbirds lay their eggs in nests of other birds. Heavy parasitism by cowbirds has pushed some species to the status of "endangered" and has probably hurt populations of some others.

adult male

Shiny Cowbird

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adult male

Boat-tailed Grackle

Until the 1970s, this big blackbird was considered to be the same species as the Great-tailed Grackle, but the two forms overlap on the coasts of Texas and Louisiana without interbreeding. The Boat-tail is a more aquatic creature, nesting in marshes, scavenging on beaches. Except in Florida, it is seldom found far away from tidewater. Boat-tailed Grackles nest in noisy colonies, the males displaying conspicuously with much wing-fluttering and harsh repeated calls.

adult male

Great-tailed Grackle

Wherever it occurs, this big blackbird is impossible to overlook -- especially the male, with his great oversized tail and incredible variety of callnotes. In the southwest, flocks of Great-tailed Grackles feed in open country during the day, but often come into towns at night, forming noisy roosting aggregations in the trees in city parks. During recent decades, this species has greatly expanded its range within our area, and it is still spreading north in some areas.

adult male Coastal (Purple)

Common Grackle

Throughout the east and midwest, this big blackbird is a very familiar species on suburban lawns, striding about with deliberate steps as it searches for insects. Common Grackles often nest in small colonies, and several males may perch in adjacent treetops to sing their creaking, grating songs. Big flocks are often seen flying overhead in the evening, heading for major communal roosts, especially from late summer through winter.

adult male

Yellow-headed Blackbird

The male Yellow-headed Blackbird is impressive to see, but not to hear: it may have the worst song of any North American bird, a hoarse, harsh scraping. Yellow-heads nest in noisy colonies in big cattail marshes of the west and midwest; when not nesting, they gather in flocks in open fields, often with other blackbirds. At some favored points in the southwest in winter, they may be seen in flocks of thousands.

adult

Common Myna

Native to southern Asia, Common Mynas have been sold as cage birds all over the globe. Escapees from captivity have established feral populations in many regions of the world, including southern Florida, where the species is now thriving in cities and suburbs.

adult male

Purple Martin

Graceful in flight, musical in its pre-dawn singing, this big swallow is one of our most popular birds. Almost all Purple Martins in the east now nest in birdhouses put up especially for them. Martin housing has a long history: some Native American tribes reportedly hung up hollow gourds around their villages to attract these birds. Purple Martins migrate to South America for the winter, but before leaving, they may gather to roost in groups of thousands in late summer.

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