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European Starling

Sturnus vulgaris

Identifying Characteristics

  • approximately 21 cm long
  • glossy, black feathers with a metallic sheen
  • feathers become duller, spotted with white in autumn
  • short, square tail
  • long bill is yellow during breeding season (late March to early July) and black the rest of the year
  • juveniles are duller in colour with rounded wing tips and black bills
  • eggs are light blue or white and measure 2 cm by 3 cm
  • on the ground, starlings walk rather than hop

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This is a photograph of an adult European Starling on a rock taken from the side. 3 images
This is a map of British Columbia showing the spread of invasive species.
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A skilled mimic that harkens from a love of Shakespeare.

In Henry IV, Shakespeare wrote, "I'll have a starling taught to say nothing but 'Mortimer,' and I'll give it to him to keep his anger still in motion." That line resulted in a North American starling population that numbers approximately 200 million. Starlings are common in urban areas and are often seen in flocks of hundreds. Their nests, usually in holes in trees or buildings, are stuffed with vegetation, feathers and other assorted objects. The female birds usually lay four or five eggs per year. The starling is a member of the mynah family and is a skilled mimic. Its usual voice is a mixture of gargles and squawks, but it can also mimic other birds including predators like the Bald Eagle.

Impact on Communities and Native Species

The European Starling is a notorious competitor and will aggressively lay claim to native bird nesting sites, kicking out the resident birds and their eggs. They compete with native birds for space and food, but also carry disease, ticks and mites that are spread to native bird species and even humans. Starlings are a threat to farmers since flocks of birds can wipe out crops. They particularly like fruits with high fructose content, and Fraser Valley blueberry farmers have been plagued with starling flocks which can decimate a third of a crop.

Invasion History

In 1890, a theatre fanatic set 60 starlings free into New York's Central Park. His dream was to introduce in North America all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's work. After several failed attempts, starlings survived and thrived and now have spread across almost the entire continent. The birds are native to Europe and Asia and were first sighted in British Columbia in 1945.They have since expanded to most of the province but are most common in the south and central regions.