Starlings in the US: The Good, the Bad, the Bold, and the Beautiful

Updated on August 29, 2019
grandmapearl profile image

At a very young age, Connie learned from her Grandma Pearl to observe and love backyard birds. She stills feeds and studies them everyday.

Starlings are a uniquely intelligent invasive species that backyard birders love to hate.
Starlings are a uniquely intelligent invasive species that backyard birders love to hate. | Source

European starlings, also known as common starlings and mynas, are an Asian bird species (Sturnus vulgaris) that has become extremely common in the US. These highly social birds can be found across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Pacific Islands as well. Their shimmering, iridescent black-green-and-purple plumage is dotted with light speckles; some say it resembles a starry night sky. The beaks of adult males are lemon yellow, and they have long throat feathers which give them a rough appearance.

European Starling Facts

  • Species Name: Sturnus vulgaris
  • Size: 7½" to 9"
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Lifespan: Approximately 15 years

How Were Starlings Introduced in the US?

Now considered one of the worst nuisance birds in this country, Old World starlings were purposely introduced to Central Park, New York City in 1890 by a well-meaning but misguided man named Eugene Schiefflin. The original 60 pairs that were released rapidly multiplied. Soon after, the American starling population exploded and the species spread rapidly throughout the entire U.S. and much of Canada. Starlings are known to compete with, displace, and kill many native birds and their young.

Starlings are now considered an invasive species and are despised by ecologists and birders alike. Despite their reputation, however, they do have some positive attributes.

The current range of the European starling in the US includes every continental state as well as portions of Canada and Mexico.
The current range of the European starling in the US includes every continental state as well as portions of Canada and Mexico. | Source

The Good: Pros of Starlings in the US

  • They eat tons of gypsy moths and caterpillars, flies and fly larvae, and many other obnoxious insects.
  • Male Starlings are gifted nest decorators and fumigators.
  • Mated pairs are usually monogamous and are devoted parents.
  • Starlings are talented mimics—they can reproduce the sounds of humans, other birds, and inanimate objects. I once heard a starling accurately imitate a ringing phone!
  • Starlings are known for their gracefully synchronized aerial murmuration dances.
  • Their iridescent feathers shimmer and sparkle with star-like dots, so there is no doubting their beauty. I admire the majesty of their "star"-covered, gleaming feathers, despite their gluttony.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This male starling's plumage is amazingly iridescent.A male European starling displays its long throat feathers.Several female starlings stand in a group. A female starling observes her surroundings.
This male starling's plumage is amazingly iridescent.
This male starling's plumage is amazingly iridescent. | Source
A male European starling displays its long throat feathers.
A male European starling displays its long throat feathers. | Source
Several female starlings stand in a group.
Several female starlings stand in a group. | Source
A female starling observes her surroundings.
A female starling observes her surroundings. | Source

The Bold and The Bad: Cons of Starlings in the US

  • Their aggression and territorial takeover habits have displaced and killed off many native songbirds. They are considered invasive by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Their corrosive droppings can damage all kinds of objects and surfaces.
  • They spread the seeds of weeds and eat large amounts of grain crops.
  • Because of their enormous flocks, they can interfere with aviation.
  • Their dominance at backyard bird feeders can push out the native bird visitors.

What Makes Starlings Unique?

Starlings have been extremely successful since their introduction to the US. They are intelligent birds who engage in a variety of unique behaviors that allow them to thrive in their environments.

They Work Together in Flocks

Flocks can number in the thousands and often move instinctively as one unit in the sky. Entire flocks swirl and change direction in flight as a survival tactic to evade predators like merlins, sparrow hawks, and falcons. This behavior is called murmuration. At dusk, smaller foraging groups join the larger flock seeking safety in numbers as they roost for the night.

They Are Strong and Noisy

Starlings will try to dominate any area they occupy and compete with native birds for food and cavity-nesting opportunities. Insects and fruit are their main food sources. On several occasions, I have seen a huge flock of starlings land on my grandparents’ large lawn. They systematically poked their beaks into the soil to forage for and feast on grubs and flies.

They Are Crafty

Male starlings build nests and decorate them with flowers to attract females. To repel insects, they add fresh herbs. How smart is that? The males’ mating calls vary and can include squawks, chortles, trills, and what sounds to me like someone pounding nails into a board!

They Reproduce Prolifically

If a female starling is properly impressed by a male's vocal talents and likes his floral offerings, she will promptly rip out his decorations and finish building the nest. The male is then officially accepted as her mate. The same nest will be used by the pair during the course of a breeding season to raise as many as three families. Four or more medium blue eggs are laid in the cups of soft, dried grass. Once the nestlings have hatched, both parents devote all their energy towards feeding their young.

Starlings usually lay four or more eggs at a time.
Starlings usually lay four or more eggs at a time. | Source

How to Keep Starlings Away From Your Bird Feeder

If you should experience an invasion of these birds at your feeders, you have several options. It is important to discourage them from remaining in your area, as they will aggressively drive out adult songbirds and kill any baby birds they encounter in order to use the nesting spots for themselves.

  • Pause Feeding for a Few Weeks During Summer: Without a ready supply of seeds, your nuisance birds may move on. Natural food sources are abundant, so supplemental feeding can be safely put on hold without causing any undue stress for your regular songbird visitors.
  • Install a Cage-Type Feeder: If you keep your seeds in a cage-feeder, smaller birds with smaller beaks will be able to access them easily, but starlings will not.
  • Use an Upside-Down Suet Feeder: Songbirds can easily figure out how to hang from and obtain food from this type of suet holder, while larger birds like starlings cannot feed from this position.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Upside-down suet cake feeders keep birds like starlings and blue jays from gobbling up all your suet!This is my upside-down suet feeder.
Upside-down suet cake feeders keep birds like starlings and blue jays from gobbling up all your suet!
Upside-down suet cake feeders keep birds like starlings and blue jays from gobbling up all your suet! | Source
This is my upside-down suet feeder.
This is my upside-down suet feeder. | Source
  • Use Grey-Striped Sunflower Seeds: Starlings can crack black oil sunflower seeds, but their beaks aren't strong enough to get into grey-striped seeds. Other backyard birds will be able to crack into these seeds, but starlings will not.
  • Don't Offer Cracked Corn or Millet: Starlings love both cracked corn and millet, so keep these items out of your feeder.
  • Remove Fallen Seeds and Husks From the Ground Below Your Feeder: Starlings often forage for food on the ground, so keeping the area under your feeder clear may help deter them.
  • Use a Birdfeeder That Closes Automatically: There are bird-feeders available that close automatically when squirrels or larger birds land on them. Small songbirds will still be able to use your feeder, but starlings will not.
  • Use a Tube-Style Feeder: The short perches and close feeding ports on tube-style feeders are awkward for larger bird species. Larger groups will not be able to dine at once, and this will cause squabbles. While the starlings are competing with each other, they won't be eating your seeds.
  • Outfit Your Birdhouses With Predator Tubes: These provide a small "tunnel" that songbirds can use with ease, but larger birds cannot enter. This prevents them from usurping the nest box or reaching the babies inside. They are forced to look elsewhere, and you'll have saved future generations of thankful songbirds.

Do You Have Starling Neighbors?

Unless you have falcons and hawks patrolling your area, you may experience these powerhouse birds. Use the above tactics to minimize their impact on your backyard bird population. Despite their aggressive takeover attitude, it is to their credit that they eat a massive amount of gypsy moth caterpillars, blowfly larvae, and other obnoxious insects. They are also attentive and devoted parents, and the murmuration "dances" they perform are truly awesome!


Questions & Answers

    Do You Think Starlings Are Good, Bad, or Both?

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      • profile image

        Lucy Saxton 

        12 months ago

        Facts from observation:- My starlings and sparrows eat alongside each other!! The magpies eat sparrow young from nest!!

      • profile image

        Catherine 

        21 months ago

        Well guys, up until our own invasion, I was a big fan of starlings. Loved the colors and their impressive flying maneuvers. Now I have my own. Not quite as big a fan. We live in the country, in Texas, and for 20 years have hosted up to 40 pairs of Cardinals, a dozen Blue Jays and built up to a dozen or so Dove each winter along with all the miscellaneous little birds. We usually go through a 50lb. bag of black oil sunflower seeds, 50lbs. of wild bird seed, and 50 to 100 lbs. of corn in 2 weeks. This year a murder of Crows found us, but the squirrels and Blue Jays seem to keep them backed off a little. We have transitional breeds that come through in flocks, but they only stay a week or two before migrating on. The Starlings are not fazed by anything. Including cats. And they are like vacuum cleaners. Our trips to the feed store have doubled and I'm afraid we're going to lose our other birds. I'm going to try some of the suggestions mentioned in another site to hopefully move them along, but at this point I think I'm hoping for a few more hawks to hang around and bring their football team with them!

      • profile image

        Joseph Jannuzzi 

        2 years ago

        I am helping my son do a school report on invasive species and we chose the starling because in our yard they are generally beneficial. They often get listed with other noxious invasive species such as gypsy moth and we have all heard the story of the the good intentioned person who released 60 pairs in Central Park because of "his love of Shakespeare." Interestingly though we found a 1910 source on birds and the book directly states the real reason they were released was to combat a caterpillar infestation in Central Park and we were able to corroborate at least partly through research that it was probably Gypsy Moth infestations stemming from the introduction of the moths for silk production back in the 1860s that caused the caterpillar problem in Central Park and the subsequent release of the starlings.

      • profile image

        Margaret 

        3 years ago

        Grandma pearl, I really feel a connection to you. On Oct 14-15, 2016 a flock of starlings settled into the trees in my back yard. One was a black walnut tree which had an abundant of ripe walnuts and the starlings went to town. Hundreds of walnuts dropped onto our backyard and deck and made the most deafening sound. Those starlings had a feast. "When starlings begin to gather, be prepared for a brutal invasion."

      • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

        Connie Smith 

        6 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

        Hi Peggy, I have always admired the murmuration dances of the starlings. I imagine that the hawks do play a definite part in your lack of starlings. You would remember seeing one of these birds, I'm sure. They have such an iridescent beauty you can't help but notice. Maybe you don't have the gypsy moths or flies that hatch out of the ground in your area?

        I'm very glad you enjoyed learning about these boisterous birds! I appreciate the votes very much; thank you ;)

        Pearl

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        6 years ago from Houston, Texas

        I learned a new word today thanks to you and it is murmuration. I have viewed some other flocks of birds doing similar things with regard to flight but to my knowledge, I have never actually seen a starling up close. Where we live we have hawks and other predator type birds nearby. Perhaps that keeps the starlings at bay. Interesting learning about them. voted that and more. Thanks!

      • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

        Connie Smith 

        7 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

        Eddy, I am so glad you liked this one about the starlings. They are one of my very favorite birds despite their bad reputations. The plumage is so pretty, and they are very gifted mimics. There's a lot of talent there that goes unappreciated. Most people chase them off their feeders, but I am so glad to hear that you have welcomed this bird along with all the others. You have a very kind and generous heart!

        Thank you so much for the votes and share and all your great support. I am always delighted to 'see' you! Pearl

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 

        7 years ago from Wales

        This is a wonderful hub Pearl I love all the knowledge you have about our feathered friends.

        This past we have a Starling coming to our bird feeders at first not being able to stand on the small perches which the Sparrows and Tits use. But after much determination he mastered it. He is now a daily visitor. Sometimes some more come with him but they soon fly off while he stays for a feed. I vote this up across the board and share. Have a wonderful day.

        Eddy.

      • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

        Connie Smith 

        7 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

        Hi Millionaire Tips! I have always been fascinated by the beauty of the starlings, and the size of their flocks. In the fall they put on a spectacular show around here as we drive down the highway. They rise up from the field alongside the road and then move back and forth swirling in the sky as one unit. It is a fun sight to see! You are right, they are awesome birds! Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the great comments. They are very much appreciated.

      • Millionaire Tips profile image

        Shasta Matova 

        7 years ago from USA

        You've provided lots of interesting facts about these birds here, Grandma Pearl. There is a park I go to that has a flock of these birds, but they haven't caused any problems as far as I know. They are pretty, and the murmurations are awesome!

      • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

        Connie Smith 

        7 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

        James, you are most welcome! I have always been fascinated by the starlings' beautiful coat and the way they fly in formation. I am so glad you stopped by and left such a nice comment. Your wonderful support is very much appreciated! Thank you.

      • James A Watkins profile image

        James A Watkins 

        7 years ago from Chicago

        I must say, I didn't know a thing about starlings until you enlightened me about them tonight. Very interesting creatures and your report on them is most excellent. Thank you.

      • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

        Connie Smith 

        7 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

        Hi tillsontitan, I am very glad you stopped by and commented. You are right about starlings, there's a lot not to like. But then again, they do eat a ton of nasty grubs and things. I guess everything has a purpose, no matter how obnoxious they are! There are many people who keep them as pets because they can be taught to mimic humans. And I have always admired their 'starry' coats.

        Thanks so much for the votes--they are very much appreciated!

      • tillsontitan profile image

        Mary Craig 

        7 years ago from New York

        What great information on a bird most people would never write about! We see them, we love them, we hate them...but who would write about them? Great job with so much good information. I never knew about the murmuration or that they were mynas!

        Voted up, useful, and interesting.

      • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

        Connie Smith 

        7 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

        Hello aravind! So nice to see you again! I have heard a lot about mynas and their vocal talents. It is surprising to me how many birds are mimics. Starling murmurations are something that has always fascinated me. The Creator has programmed them to dance in synchronization as a defense against sky predators, and it is truly awesome to witness. I am very glad you enjoyed this. Thank you so much for your special comments and your votes. They are definitely appreciated!

      • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

        Connie Smith 

        7 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

        Hi Nell, so nice to see you as always! Yes, those 60 pairs multiplied like 'rabbits'. And their vocal range is astounding. I will be reading your article about Red Kites and their talents for knowing what day it is! How cool is that when they start to circle! I love to learn about birds and their behavior. Thank you so much for your comments and for the votes and share. Much Appreciated!

      • aravindb1982 profile image

        Aravind Balasubramanya 

        7 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

        Wonderful! I am so much wiser after reading this hub. In my part of the world, I see a lot of mynas. But they do not seem to be as powerfully 'influential' as the starlings are - nor are they present in such large number.

        It was the first time I watched a video of such a magnificent flock - almost scary. Thank you GrandmaPearl for another pearl of a hub! Voted awesome, beautiful, interesting and UP! :)

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        7 years ago from England

        All this from the original 60 pairs! lol! fascinating birds though, all birds are really intelligent, I have Red Kites behind my house and they know when its thursday because I always pick up a hot chicken on the way home from work! they wait for me to eat it then they start circling like a load of vultures! lol! really interesting hub, wonderful! voted up and shared, nell

      • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

        Connie Smith 

        7 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

        Yes, "if given the chance" is exactly right! It never fails to astonish me that despite their so-called 'bird brains', birds are extremely intelligent and adaptable creatures. Guess that's why I get such a kick out of them! Thanks for stopping by, it's always nice to see you aviannovice!

      • aviannovice profile image

        Deb Hirt 

        7 years ago from Stillwater, OK

        Oh, yes, they are truly opportunists, if given the chance.

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