European starling

Sturnus vulgaris subfamily

Sturninae taxonomy

Sturnus vulgaris Linnaeus, 1758. Twelve races recognized. other common names

English: Common starling, northern starling, English starling, purple-winged starling, starling; French: Étourneau sansonnet; German: Star; Spanish: Estornino Pinto.

physical characteristics

8.3-8.7 in (21—22 cm); weight 2.0-3.7 oz (58-105 g). A purple-green iridescent, short-tailed black bird with a long thin bill that changes seasonally from black in winter to yellow during nesting. Following the fall molt, starlings are very spotted with white as a result of white-tipped body feathers. As the winter progresses, the white tips wear off little by little so that, during courtship, the birds show mostly the iridescent black with little spotting. Males have longer, narrower hackle feathers and, during nesting season, a blue base to the bill, while females have a pink base to the bill. Juveniles are gray-brown with a streaked breast and dark bill.

distribution

Most of temperate Eurasia from Iceland east. Introduced and established in South Africa, Polynesia (Fiji, Tonga), Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, North America (from coast to coast, and southern Alaska into Mexico), Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. It has been seen in Hawaii, but has not become established there.

habitat

Open country, open woods, urban and suburban areas. behavior

An aggressive competitor for woodpecker cavities and nest boxes, as well as for niches on buildings; roosts in flocks that sometimes number in the millions. Is a good vocal mimic, often mimicking other birds, but can be taught to mimic the human voice.

significance to humans

Long recognized for helping to control locust swarms. Sometimes hailed for eating locusts in the spring and hated for taking grapes in the summer. ♦

feeding ecology and diet

Characteristically feeds on the ground, often in large flocks; takes a diversity of insects, other arthropods, grain, and fruit.

reproductive biology

Can be a solitary or loosely colonial nester, nests March-May in Northern Hemisphere, September-December in South Africa. A serious competitor for woodpecker cavities and nest boxes with many cavity nesting birds, especially where it has been introduced. Clutch of three to six pale blue eggs is incubated by the female for 11-15 days. Young are fed by both parents and fledge at 20-21 days.

conservation status

Not threatened.

significance to humans

Consumes a lot of harmful insects and weed seeds. Its introduction into North America was a result of the desire of a homesick immigrant to the United States deciding to introduce to North America all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare. He began with the European starling, which is mentioned in Henry IV; the rest is history. Judgment is generally tipped against the starling as a result of its enormous winter flocks, proclivity for close association with humans, building messy nests on buildings, taking grain and fruit, and competing with songbirds and woodpeckers for nest sites. ♦

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