Starlings

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Identification

  • Colour Glossy black plumage with a metallic/iridescent sheen, black bill
  • Size From 19 cm to 23 cm in length, with a wingspan of 31 cm to 44 cm
  • Description About the same size as a robin. Their feathers become duller, spotted with white in fall.
  • Notes During breeding season their long bill turns yellow.
European Starling close up

General Facts

The Common Starling, also known as the “European Starling” or just the “Starling” is an invasive species which was deliberately introduced to North America. Their arrival can be traced back to the late 1890s when The American Acclimatization Society imported and released dozens of starlings in New York City’s Central Park. The goal was to bring all the species of birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays into North America. By 1950, starlings had spread across the continent and reached the Pacific coast. Today they are one of the most common and widespread birds in North America with a population exceeding 200 million.

Starlings are roughly the same size as robins, generally “chunky” and hump-backed in appearance, with a shape similar to a meadowlark. They have been more than a nuisance for a long time and past efforts to reduce populations on a large scale have proved to be too costly and ineffective in the long run.

Problems/Damage

These birds travel in flocks of up to 20,000 in the winter. The combined weight of the birds can break small branches and disfigure trees. The droppings are phytotoxic and, in large quantities, can kill mature trees. Livestock owners find starlings especially bothersome because they eat large quantities of feed and contaminate even more with their droppings. Starlings also love to eat wild and cultivated fruits such as berries and cherries.

Starlings are noisy songbirds and known for their ability to mimic noises from other birds as well as mechanical sounds in its natural environment. The males are known to sing constantly as the breeding period approaches in an effort to attract and entice females.

Starlings are able to transmit ectoparasites such as mites, fleas, and bedbugs as well as diseases which are potentially fatal to humans, pets, and livestock. These diseases include Histoplasmosis, Salmonellosis, Toxoplasmosis, and Chlamydiosis.

Habitat and Behaviour

Starlings have a native range throughout Europe, the northern coast of Africa, and as far east as India and Mongolia. They migrate towards the equator and can be found along the coast of the Mediterranean and the Middle East during the winter months of the Northern Hemisphere. In the summer months, starlings will migrate towards Finland, Russia, and Kazakhstan. Starlings in North America breed throughout the continental United States, the southern regions of all Canadian provinces, and along the Pacific coast of British Columbia. During the summer, they will migrate as far north as the territories.

Starlings form communal roosts which can be home to 10,000 or more birds. As they migrate during the winter, flock populations can grow into the hundreds of thousands in southern Ontario and other provinces.

Their preferred nesting sites are tall trees or buildings with cavities where they can readily build nests using dead grasses and fresh vegetation rich in chemicals that act as fumigants. Starlings will maintain the insulating properties of the nest until their chicks are feathered, at which point the nests begin to resemble pest-ridden compost. Females will lay as many as seven eggs in one brood. The eggs hatch after less than two weeks of incubation and young starlings leave the nest within three weeks of birth.

 

Why do I have European starlings?

The European starling, also known as the common starling, likes to nest on tall trees or buildings with cavities. They then build nests with dead grasses and fresh vegetation.

Starlings love to eat wild and cultivated fruits such as berries and cherries, as well as large quantities of feed from livestock farms.

How worried should I be about European starlings?

European starlings are noisy birds that do serious harm to humans, pets, and livestock. These pest birds can transmit parasites, like mites, fleas, and bedbugs, as well as potentially fatal diseases, including histoplasmosis, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, and chlamydiosis.

The combined weight of a flock of starlings – up to 20,000 birds in the winter – can break small branches and disfigure trees. Their droppings are phytotoxic and can kill mature trees, as well as contaminate livestock feed.

Removing these birds can be a difficult and delicate matter due to regulatory restrictions. To make sure you are complying with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Fish & Wildlife Act, you should use a professional, licensed pest control service.

How can I prevent European starlings invading?

Eliminate food sources, including bird feeders for other species, Repair and seal any exterior cavities where birds can nest, Cover vents and other openings with wire mesh

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