European starlings are stocky, short-tailed birds, distinguished from other black birds by their distinctive chunky shape. Adult upperparts appear black but are glossy greenish black. The yellow bill is sharp-pointed and long. In fall after molting, the wings and tail are edged in brown; the entire plumage is speckled with white spots. In winter, the bill is brownish yellow and darker; the white speckling wears off toward spring. Young birds are brownish gray with dull streaking below and a brown bill.
Sturnidae (starlings) in the order Passeriformes
Length: 8½ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Where To Find
Found in urban and suburban areas as well as in many country areas during the summer. They forage on the ground and at birdfeeders. In spring they often move into rural areas to nest in woodpecker holes and other cavities in trees and buildings. In summer and fall the young birds form flocks, often called creches, that sometimes include grackles and blackbirds. Large swirling creches may include hundreds of thousands of individuals swarming high in the sky over cities and farmland.
Omnivorous birds that monopolize backyard suet feeders, these ground-foraging insectivores have strong muscles that open the bill (most other birds have strong muscles to close their bills). As a European starling pierces the ground or probes into a clump of grass and opens its bill, the eyes rotate forward, allowing it to look at the white grubs and other soil animals it extracts. Starlings also eat a variety of berries, seeds, and even garbage such as French fries in parking lots.
Common permanent resident. European starlings were released in New York’s Central Park in 1890 by a group that tried to bring to our continent every species of bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. By 1950, the starling’s invasion had extended to the Pacific Ocean. This species has successfully colonized much of the world. Ironically, it has been red-listed by conservationists in its native Great Britain, as starling numbers there have declined dramatically in recent decades.
Nests are built in cavities, often crannies in buildings and signs, but also in woodpecker holes and nest boxes. They compete fiercely for nesting spaces, displacing, even evicting, our native cavity-nesting birds such as bluebirds, wood ducks, sapsuckers, flycatchers, and purple martins. A clutch has 3-6 eggs, and incubation lasts about 12 days. Young fledge in 21-23 days, and there are 1-2 broods per year.
Americans love to hate starlings, for their seeming “greed” at birdfeeders, their untidy nests that are often made near human structures, and their large, squawking numbers. Yet humans brought them here, and witnessing their sad effects on native bird species should serve to humble us.
Starlings compete with native cavity-nesting birds, creating a conservation concern for those native species. Interestingly, there are 117 species of starlings worldwide, many of them strikingly colorful; look for them in zoos. Many are talented mimics; mynas are in this family.
About Birds in Missouri
About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.