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Overview

Brief Summary

Common starlings are very good at imitating. Sirens, car alarms, croaking frogs; just name it, they are likely to imitate it. However, that is not the only way they try to impress. Starlings seduce each other with long throat feathers. The males also decorate their nesting holes with flowers, leaves and buds to lure females. You find starlings everywhere. They forage on particularly on pastures and fields, where they pick all kinds of creatures out of the ground. During migration season, you can see enormous groups foraging for food. Fruit trees are also a favorite...
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Biology

A wide variety of food is eaten, such as insects and grains, as well as items from bird tables, rubbish dumps, the seashore and sewage farms (3). The beak is well adapted for probing the soil, and leatherjackets (cranefly larvae) are a major source of food (8). The European starling is a gregarious bird; this is particularly in evidence during winter, when individuals feed in flocks and often roost in huge numbers (3). Towards dusk, enormous flocks often form near the roost sites, with birds preening, singing and resting before flying into the roost. This is often a spectacular sight, involving a swirling aerial display of the co-ordinated movements of a huge number of European starlings (3). During the breeding season, the nest, an untidy pile of twigs, grasses, moss, wool and feathers, is made in a hole, typically in a building or a tree (6). The male begins nest construction, but the female completes it (4). After mid-April, 5-7 bluish eggs are usually laid, although up to 9 eggs have been known in a clutch (4). Both parents incubate the eggs for up to 15 days, they then feed the chicks for 20-22 days (4). After fledging, the juveniles are often seen following their parents as they feed, begging for food (2).
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Description

The European starling, a familiar bird in both urban and rural areas (3), may at first glance be confused with a blackbird due to its yellow beak and blackish plumage (2). The European starling however, has many differences; it is smaller, and the feathers have an iridescent bluish-purple and greenish sheen, there are also some yellowish spots on the body (4). The sexes are similar, but in spring and summer the males lose the spots on the breast, and the lower part of the bill becomes bluish towards the base (2). In winter the bill becomes dark in both sexes. Juveniles are greyish-brown, and immature birds retain a greyish brown head but have a spotted body (2). A wide range of chuckles, whistles, knocking and grating sounds are produced, along with good imitations of the songs of other birds (4).
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Sturnus vulgaris

A medium-sized (7 ½ -8 ½ inches) songbird, the European Starling in summer is most easily identified by its glossy iridescent body, long yellow bill, and short tail. In winter, this species becomes duller overall with white-spotted plumage and a dark bill. Immature birds are dull brownish-gray, but are shaped similarly to adults. Male and female European Starlings are similar to one another in all seasons. The European Starling is native to Europe and West Asia, wintering to North Africa and the Middle East. In recent times, this species has been introduced elsewhere in the world, including in temperate North America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Some introduced populations of European Starlings migrate short distances in spring and fall, but many such populations in warmer climates are wholly non-migratory. European Starlings inhabit a wide variety of open habitats, including grasslands, meadows, and agricultural fields, across their wide range. This species has also been incredibly successful at utilizing man-made habitats, and may be found in the heart of major urban areas. European Starlings eat a variety of foods, including seeds, grains, insects, and (in some areas) human refuse. In temperate and subtropical parts of the world, the European Starling is often one of the most visible bird species, particularly in urban areas. Individuals may be observed foraging for food in fields, yards, parks, and even on bare sidewalk. This species is a cavity nester, and birds in introduced populations are frequently reviled for aggressively displacing native birds from nest sites. European Starlings are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least Concern

  • Cabe, Paul R. 1993. European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/048
  • Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). The Internet Bird Collection. Lynx Edicions, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • Peterson, Roger Tory. Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. Print.
  • Sturnus vulgaris. Xeno-canto. Xeno-canto Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • eBird Range Map - European Starling. eBird. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, N.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
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Comprehensive Description

The European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a small bird native to Europe but now widely distributed throughout the U.S. In both males and females, the nape, breast and back are covered in iridescent green glossed feathers while the wings are black, sometimes with a sheen that is green or purple in color. The breast may become flecked with white during the winter months. The legs are reddish brown and the irises are dark brown, and the bill is yellow during mating season and black for the remainder of the year (Weber 1979, Craig and Feare 1999, Chow 2000).Some sexual dimorphism exists. Males have elongate breast feathers and a bluish spot at the base of the beak whereas females have short breast plumage and a reddish pink speck at the base of the beak. Juveniles have more rounded wing tips and brownish-black bills (Weber 1979, Craig and Feare 1999).The vocalizations of S. vulgaris are variable and complex, consisting of warbles, clicks, whistles, creaks, chirrups, chips, gurgles and other component sounds (Chow 2000).
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Distribution

Global Range: Native to Eurasia; introduced in the U.S. in New York City in 1890. Now breeds from southeastern Alaska, across southern Canada, south through most of U.S. to southern Mexico; also in Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico (very local in the late 1980s). Periodically reported from St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Reported casually in Hawaii.

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Range Description

There is evidence to suggest that the European population (200,000-510,000 pairs, occupying 50-74% of the global breeding range) has declined by up to 30% over ten years (three generations), but this may reflect shifts in breeding populations, populations in Asia are not thought to be declining and wintering populations in Africa appear to be increasing.

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The European Starling Sturnus vulgaris is found in all but one of the world's six biogeographical realms, excepting (so far) the Neotropics. Dispersed mainly over its natural Palearctic region (from Central Siberia in the east and the Azores in the west to Norway in the north and the Mediterranean in the south), starlings were introduced to North America in 1890. Of the one hundred starlings released that year in New York City, only fifteen pairs survived. Over the next hundred years, starlings would increase a million-fold from the original fifteen. Because of their wide range of ecological tolerance, these birds were able to rapidly expand their range across the United States. The European Starling is found today sprawled from the Atlantic to the Pacific (east to west) and from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico (north to south). (Craig and Feare 1999; Feare 1984; Kahane 1988).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Introduced ); ethiopian (Native ); australian (Introduced )

Other Geographic Terms: cosmopolitan

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Geographic Range

European starlings are found in all of the world's biogeographic regions except the Neotropics and Antarctica. They are native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. In this native range they can be found from Central Siberia in the east to the Azores in the west, from Norway in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south. The northern and eastern most populations in the native range are migratory. Migrating birds spend the winter in western and southern Europe, Africa north of the Sahara, Egypt, northern Arabia, northern Iran, and the plains of northern India.

European starlings were intentionally introduced to North America by humans in 1890. Of the one hundred starlings released that year in New York City's Central Park, only 15 pairs survived. Over the next one hundred years the number of European starlings increased a million times. Because of their wide range of ecological tolerance, these birds were able to rapidly expand their range across the United States. European starlings are found today from the Atlantic to the Pacific (east to west) and from southern Canada to northern Mexico (north to south). European starlings have also been introduced to southern Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Introduced ); ethiopian (Native ); australian (Introduced )

Other Geographic Terms: cosmopolitan

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Introduced to North America in 1890, S. vulgaris now occur throughout most of the continent. The greatest densities in the U.S. occur in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states, but the species can also be found throughout Florida. S. vulgaris is established throughout the state, including the 6 counties of the India River Lagoon watershed.
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Range

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, European starlings were quite rare (5). After that, they underwent an increase in numbers, and were one of Britain's most widespread and common birds, found throughout Britain, except on higher ground in Scotland (3). However, the species has more recently suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune; since the 1980s, European starling abundance has decreased severely, giving great cause for conservation concern (7). The greatest declines of a shocking 92% have occurred in woodland, but this may represent sub-optimal habitat for the European starling. On farmland declines of 66% have occurred (8). Outside of Britain, the European starling occurs throughout Europe, reaching central and southern Asia, and has been introduced to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and North America (6).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Adult starling males and females mature to a length of about 21.5 centimeters (8.5 inches) and weigh between 2.5 and 3.5 ounces. Both males and females have similar iridescent green glossed feathers covering the back, nape, and breast. The black wings are occasionally seen with a veneer of green and purple. In winter when the tips of the feathers have eroded away, a white or cream colored "flecking" appears against a dusky black background, primarily on the breast. This accounts for the non-breeding plumage of the adult birds. The shape of these feathers is rounded at the base and jagged toward the tip. Both sexes also share similarities in leg color (reddish brown), iris color (dark brown), and in the seasonal changes in bill color (yellow during mating season, otherwise black). Sexual dimorphism is also plentiful. Males have elongated feathers over the breast, whereas females have short and petite plumes. Males sport a bluish spot at the base of their beaks, while the female displays a reddish pink speck. In juvenile birds, the fine gloss is not as noticeable as in the adults. Juvenile birds also tend to have more rounded tips at their wings. And unlike the adult yellow bill, juveniles display a brownish-black shade year-round. (Craig and Feare 1999; "European Starling Facts" 2000; Weber 1980).

Range mass: 70.0 to 100.0 g.

Average length: 21.5 cm.

Average wingspan: 40.0 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.877 W.

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Physical Description

European starlings grow to a length of about 21.5 centimeters (8.5 inches). They weigh between 2.5 and 3.5 ounces. Both males and females have iridescent green glossed feathers covering the body. The black wings sometimes have a highlight of green and purple. In winter, when the tips of the feathers have eroded away, a white or cream colored "flecking" appears against a dusky black background, primarily on the breast. The shape of these feathers is rounded at the base and jagged toward the tip. Males have elongated feathers over the breast. Females have short and petite plumes.

Starling legs are reddish brown. Their eyes are dark brown. The bill is yellow during the mating season, and black the rest of the year. Males have a bluish spot at the base of their beaks, while the female displays a reddish pink speck. Young birds are overall pale-brown until they grow their adult feathers. Young birds have a brownish-black bill all year.

Range mass: 70.0 to 100.0 g.

Average length: 21.5 cm.

Average wingspan: 40.0 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.877 W.

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Size

Length: 22 cm

Weight: 85 grams

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Adult European starlings re ach a length of 21.5 cm and a weight of 70-100 g. They are long-lived; one wild individual is documented to have lived more than 15 years and banding studies have shown individuals may live up to 21 years (Chow 2000, CWBO 2004).
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Look Alikes

The physical characteristic noted above should be sufficient to identify S. vulgaris by sight. The species is noted to be an accomplished mimic, however, and misidentification of the vocalizations of this species is therefore possible (Chow 2000).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Depth range based on 159 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 100 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 7.567 - 16.537
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.165 - 12.829
  Salinity (PPS): 6.428 - 35.283
  Oxygen (ml/l): 5.634 - 8.179
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.258 - 0.734
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.987 - 11.140

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 7.567 - 16.537

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.165 - 12.829

Salinity (PPS): 6.428 - 35.283

Oxygen (ml/l): 5.634 - 8.179

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.258 - 0.734

Silicate (umol/l): 0.987 - 11.140
 
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The European Starling is a bird of lowlands, found mainly on non-mountainous terrain. During breeding season, these birds require holes for nesting, as well as fields of vegetation for feeding. For the remainder of the year, the starling utilizes a larger range of habitats, from open moorland to salt marshes. The usual nesting sites are holes and crevices in trees, buildings, and rooftops. Starlings too plunder on other birds' nests and use them as their own. (Feare 1984; Kahane 1988; "Encarta Online" 2000).

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; chaparral

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

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Comments: Found in a wide variety of habitats including open wood- lands, agricultural and urban areas. Roosts in trees, shrubs, or buildings, forages in open areas (Godfrey 1966). May use cavity as night roost during nonbreeding season; this cavity may be used for nesting by same bird(s). Cavity nester. Nests in tree hole, woodpecker hole, axil of coconut palm, bird box, or crevice in building. Competes with flicker, Lewis's Woodpecker, Gila Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, bluebirds, and other cavity nesters for nest sites.

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European starlings are lowland birds. They are found mainly in non-mountainous areas. During the breeding season, these birds require holes for nesting and fields of vegetation for feeding. For the remainder of the year European starlings use a larger range of habitats, from open moorland to salt marshes. European starlings are cavity nesters. They will use nestboxes, holes and crevices in trees, and corners and holes in buildings for their nests. This has put them in direct competition with many native North American birds that are also cavity nesters, such as eastern bluebirds and black-capped chickadees. European starlings are more aggressive than these birds. They often kill them in order to get the nest cavity.

European starlings prefer to forage in open habitats, such as short grasslands and pastures. Because they usually feed and travel in flocks, being in the open allows all the members of the flock to keep an eye out for predators.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; chaparral

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

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Depth range based on 159 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 100 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 7.567 - 16.537
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.165 - 12.829
  Salinity (PPS): 6.428 - 35.283
  Oxygen (ml/l): 5.634 - 8.179
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.258 - 0.734
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.987 - 11.140

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 7.567 - 16.537

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.165 - 12.829

Salinity (PPS): 6.428 - 35.283

Oxygen (ml/l): 5.634 - 8.179

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.258 - 0.734

Silicate (umol/l): 0.987 - 11.140
 
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Found in a huge range of habitats, from city centres to marshlands, and breeds in woods, cities, towns, parks, gardens, cliffs, and quarries (4).
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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Resident throughout most its range, but some individuals migrate (mid-February to early March, late September to November).

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Trophic Strategy

The omnivorous European Starling can adapt to numerous kinds of food. It uses a "prying" and "open-bill probing" technique to allow them access foods that are protected by tough skins or shells. The birds insert their bill into the food, pry it open by widening their beaks, and expose the nourishment that is found inside. Foods eaten include seeds, insects, vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, and fruits (which will be later discussed under "Negative Economic Importance"). The most common animals eaten by the starling are centipedes, spiders, moths, earthworms. The most popular plants are berries, seeds, apples, pears, plums, and cherries. (Craig and Feare 1999; Feare 1984; "World Book Online" 2000).

Animal Foods: carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; terrestrial worms

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Comments: Approximately half of its diet is insects; feeds on weevils, cut-worms, beetles, grasshoppers, ants, etc. Also feeds on other invertebrates; spiders, millipedes, earthworms, and snails. Consumes a wide variety of fruits and grains. Avoids high-sucrose fruits (Avery et al. 1995).

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Food Habits

European starlings eat a wide variety of foods. They take both plant and animal foods at all times of the year. Young birds eat mostly animal foods such as soft invertebrates. The adults eat primarily plant foods. They forage for food by searching on the ground in open areas with short or sparse vegetation. Starlings sometimes follow farm equipment as it turns up the soil. They also feed in intertidal zones, sewage treatment beds, garbage, farmyards, and feeding areas for domestic stock. They will feed in trees where there are ripening fruit or large numbers of Lepidoptera.

Foods eaten include seeds, insects, small vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, and fruits. The most common animals eaten by the starling are Chilopoda, Araneae, Lepidoptera, and Oligochaeta. The most popular plants are berries, seeds, apples, pears, plums, and cherries. European starlings take most of their food from on or just below the ground surface.

The shape of their skull and muscles allow them to insert their bills into the ground or a tough food item and pry an opening by opening their bill. They have binocular vision while doing this, enabling them to see what they are doing and distinguish freshly unearthed food items.

European starlings need to drink free-standing water, although they get some moisture from the foods they eat.

Animal Foods: carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; terrestrial worms

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

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S. vulgaris is an omnivorous species with a broad generalist diet. The diet consists mainly of seeds, insects, invertebrates, fruits and other plant material (Chow 2000).
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Associations

The abundance of European starlings makes them an important prey base for many small predators. European starlings are able to reproduce and invade new areas rapidly because they have many babies each year and because they can use a variety of foods and habitats. This also means that they can have large impacts on seed and fruit crops and insect populations. In areas where they are non-native they can displace the native species of birds that typically play these roles.

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European starlings typically congregate in large groups called flocks, except during the breeding season. Flocking together helps protect them from predators by increasing the number of birds that can watch for predators. Birds in the flock quickly warn others about the approach of a predator.

Known Predators:

  • falcons (Falconidae)
  • domestic cats (Felis silvestris)

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Ecosystem Roles

The abundance of European starlings makes them an important prey base for many small predators. European starlings are able to reproduce and invade new areas rapidly because they have many babies each year and because they can use a variety of foods and habitats. This also means that they can have large impacts on seed and fruit crops and insect populations. In areas where they are non-native they can displace the native species of birds that typically play these roles.

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Predation

European starlings typically congregate in large groups called flocks, except during the breeding season. Flocking together helps protect them from predators by increasing the number of birds that can watch for predators. Birds in the flock quickly warn others about the approach of a predator.

Known Predators:

  • falcons (Falconidae)
  • domestic cats (Felis_silvestris)

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In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / parasite / endoparasite
Brachylaimus fuscatus endoparasitises small intestine (first third) of Sturnus vulgaris
Remarks: Other: uncertain

Animal / parasite / ectoparasite / blood sucker
nymph of Ixodes ricinus sucks the blood of Sturnus vulgaris

Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
imago of Ornithomya avicularia ectoparasitises Sturnus vulgaris

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
Prosthorhynchus cylindraceus endoparasitises small intestine (middle third) of Sturnus vulgaris

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
Syngamus trachea endoparasitises trachea of Sturnus vulgaris

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In addition to forming large monotypic flocks, Kern (2001) notes European starlings may form multi-species flocks with a variety of species including blackbirds (Turdus spp.), common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula), and cowbirds (Molothrus spp.).Invasion History: Native to Eurasia and North Africa, Sturnus vulgaris was intentionally introduced to North America in 1890-1891. Accounts reveal that a New York industrialist inspired by the portrayal of the bird in the plays of William Shakespeare released 100 individuals in Central Park, although several other attempts at introduction were also made (Chapman 1966). The birds introduced to New York rapidly multiplied and expanded their introduced range. The species was first reported from Florida in 1918, less than 30 years after the initial introduction, and the first report of nesting activity in Florida dates to Pensacola, 1932. By 1949, Sturnus vulgaris nesting had expanded to Orlando (Sprunt 1954, GSMFC).In the U.S. the species is considered to be established and expanding, and eradication is not considered to be a plausible form of management (ISSG). High fecundity, polygynous reproductive behavior, and broad generalist dietary and habitat requirements facilitate the ability of S. vulgaris to rapidly multiply and invade new areas (Craig and Feare 1999; Kahane 1988). Potential to Compete With Natives: European starlings are aggressive competitors capable of displacing native populations. The generalist feeding habits and efficiency at foraging for invertebrates as well as seeds and fruits suggests Sturnus vulgaris are likely to come into direct competition with a wide range of co-occurring birds.Airola and Grantham (2003) report a correlation between the decline in the number of urban nesting purple martens (Progne subis) and an increase in the number of co-occurring Sturnus vulgaris. There is widespread concern that overpopulation by Sturnus vulgaris is capable of reducing avian diversity (Chow 2000). Possible Economic Consequences of Invasion: Although Sturnus vulgaris is an important consumer of crop-damaging insects, the net economic effect of this introduced species is negative. The primary impact of Sturnus vulgaris is related to the agricultural crop damage the species causes. Large migrating flocks can inflict massive damage to fruit and grain crops. Starlings also harbor a number of diseases that pose serious health risks for human populations, including blastomycosis, beef measles, and histoplasmosis. Additionally, they are a nuisance species that poses an airstrip hazard, and can damage roof linings amd other man-made structures (Weber 1979, Kahane 1988, Craig and Feare 1999, Chow 2000, Adeney 2001).Sturnus vulgaris is listed by ISSG as as among "100 of the Worst" global invasive organisms.
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Known prey organisms

Sturnus vulgaris preys on:
Annelida
Arthropoda
Insecta

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Known predators

Sturnus vulgaris is prey of:
Falconidae
Felis silvestris

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Population Biology

S. vulgaris is one of the world's most abundant birds (Kahane 1988; Craig and Feare 1999).The 1994 U.S. S. vulgaris population was estimated at 140 million birds and the expanding population is likely now to be substantially larger. Migrating flocks may consist of up to 3,000 individuals (Chow, Kern 2001).In the late spring through late summer, starlings are commonly encountered in Florida as dispersed pairs. In the fall and winter, they aggregate as large migrating flocks, although a year-round Florida population exists as well (Chow 200, Kern 2001).
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General Ecology

Nonbreeding: often gathers in large roosts. Often occurs in large mixed flocks with black-birds, cowbirds, and grackles (in summer and fall in northeastern U.S., Caccamise et al. 1983).

Commonly usurps the nest sites of native cavity-nesting birds (e.g., bluebirds, woodpeckers). However, an examination of Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey data found that few, if any, native species have showed significant declines that could be attributed to starling competition. Only sapsuckers exhibited declines potentially attributable to starlings that were not countered by other data (Koenig 2003).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

European starlings are highly vocal all year long except when they are molting, when they are silent. The songs of males are highly variable and have many components. They warble, click, whistle, creak, chirrup, and gurgle. European starlings are also accomplished mimics, often copying songs or sounds of other birds and animals (frog calls, goats, cats), or even of mechanical sounds. European starlings can be trained to mimic human sounds in captivity. Other calls include a "querrr?" sound used while in flight, a metallic 'chip' that warns of a predator's presence, and a snarling call made while attacking intruders.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Communication and Perception

European starlings are highly vocal all year long except when they are molting, when they are silent. The songs of males are highly variable and have many components. They warble, click, whistle, creak, chirrup, and gurgle. European starlings are also accomplished mimics, often copying songs or sounds of other birds and animals (frog calls, goats, cats), or even of mechanical sounds. European starlings can be trained to mimic human sounds in captivity. Other calls include a "querrr?" sound used while in flight, a metallic 'chip' that warns of a predator's presence, and a snarling call made while attacking intruders.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Cyclicity

Comments: In late summer and fall forages during the day, returning late in afternoon, in small flocks, to night roost.

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Life Expectancy

One wild European starling lived for 15 years and 3 months. Captive birds may be expected to have maximum lifespans of slightly longer than this.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
15.0 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
183 months.

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Lifespan/Longevity

One wild European starling lived for 15 years and 3 months. Captive birds may be expected to have maximum lifespans of slightly longer than this.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
15.0 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
183 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 22.9 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Mating System: monogamous

Breeding season generally begins in the spring and ends in early summer (for the Northern Hemisphere, from late March until early July and for the Southern Hemisphere, from September to December). The length of the breeding season fluctuates from year to year. Endemic starlings in Europe commonly go through three distinct phases of breeding, each resulting in a clutch of eggs. The first clutch, containing about five eggs, is usually synchronized with egg laying of other starlings in the area. The second or "intermediate clutch" of eggs, is the result of the starlings' polygynous practice. The third clutch, which is not as synchronized as the first, typically occurs about forty to fifty days after the first. Starling eggs are predominantly glossy light blue and white. Incubation of these eggs lasts about eleven days. Females, with more developed incubation patches, incubate the eggs for the majority of time. Because of the starlings' high fertility as well as its polygyny, and its ability to utalize a broad spectrum of foods and habitats starlings are able to both multiply and invade rapidly. (Craig and Feare 1999; Kahane 1988).

Breeding interval: European starlings may lay more than one clutch in the same breeding season, particularly if the eggs or babies from the first clutch did not survive. It is more common for birds living in southern areas to have more than one clutch, probably because the breeding season is longer.

Breeding season: European starlings breed from March to July.

Range eggs per season: 4.0 to 7.0.

Range time to hatching: 15.0 (high) days.

Range fledging age: 21.0 to 23.0 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; oviparous

Average eggs per season: 5.

European starling chicks are helpless at birth. At first the parents feed them only soft, animal foods, but as they grow older the parents bring a wider variety of plant and animal foods. Both parents feed the young and remove their fecal sacs from the nest. Young leave the nest after 21 to 23 days but are fed by the parents for a few days after this. Males give little or no parental care to the last of clutches if they have had more than one clutch in the season. Once the young are living independently, they form flocks with other young birds.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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Clutch size 4-9 (usually 5-7). Incubation by both sexes in turn, 12-15 days. Altricial, downy nestlings fed by parents for 20-22 days (Harrison 1978). One to 3 broods per year. Female may lay egg in nest of another starling. Polygyny and communal breeding have been documented (see Pinxton et al., 1994, Auk 111:482-486).

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Mating System: monogamous

The breeding season for European starlings generally begins in the spring and ends in early summer. The length of the breeding season changes from year to year. European starlings synchronize their first clutch of the year, which means that all of the starlings in an area lay eggs at the same time. They lay from 4 to 7 eggs in their nest over a week and begin incubating them full time when the second to last egg is laid. European starling eggs are glossy bluish or greenish-white. Both parents incubate their eggs, which means the parents sit on the eggs to keep them warm until they hatch. Females have more highly developed incubation patches (bare patches of skin on their breast) and spend more time incubating than the males. Young European starlings hatch after 12 to 15 days of incubation.

Breeding interval: European starlings may lay more than one clutch in the same breeding season, particularly if the eggs or babies from the first clutch did not survive. It is more common for birds living in southern areas to have more than one clutch, probably because the breeding season is longer.

Breeding season: European starlings breed from March to July.

Range eggs per season: 4.0 to 7.0.

Range time to hatching: 15.0 (high) days.

Range fledging age: 21.0 to 23.0 days.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization

Average eggs per season: 5.

European starling chicks are helpless at birth. At first the parents feed them only soft, animal foods, but as they grow older the parents bring a wider variety of plant and animal foods. Both parents feed the young and remove their fecal sacs from the nest. Young leave the nest after 21 to 23 days but are fed by the parents for a few days after this. Males give little or no parental care to the last of clutches if they have had more than one clutch in the season. Once the young are living independently, they form flocks with other young birds.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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Reproduction is sexual and oviparous. The breeding season generally persists from late spring through mid-summer. In the northern hemisphere thi eseason typically occurs from late March and to early July and in the southern hemisphere from September through December.Clutch sizes average 4-6 eggs and females may produce up 3 clutches over the course of a breeding season. The species is polygynous, with males breeding with multiple females (Kahane 1988, Craig and Feare 1999, Kern 2001).
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Growth

Nest incubation lasts from 11-15 days. Nesting duties are shared between males and females, but females possess a more prominent incubation patch (a defeathered abdominal area with thickened skin and a rich blood vessel bed) and incubate the eggs for the majority of time.Hatchlings are helpless at birth and feeding and nestkeeping chores are shared by both parents. Male parental care is minimal for clutches they may sire late in the season. Young are fed only soft animal fird initially, and over time the diet expands to include a vider variety of animal and plant material. Young remain in the nest for 21-23 days and may rely on parents to feed them for a few days beyond this. Young birds leave the nest to form flocks with other young birds (Kahane 1988, Craig and Feare 1999, Chow 2000, CWBO 2004).
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Eyes specialized for different types of vision: starlings
 

The eyes of starlings are specialized for different types of vision, color or movement, due to different retinal cone types.

       
  "In 2000, a team of researchers led by biologist Dr. Nathan Hart of Queensland University in Australia revealed that the retinal cellular composition of a starling's two eyes differs.

"In its left eye, the retina has more single cones - photosensitive cells that respond to color. Conversely, in the retina of its right eye, double cones - which detect movement - predominate. The two eyes seem to fulfill different functions, which may well explain why starlings (as well as many other birds) tend to look at objects with either one eye or the other. So if a starling looks at an object with its left eye, it may be scrutinizing its coloration, whereas if it looks with its right eye, it may be watching for movement." (Shuker 2001:12)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Hart, NS; Partridge, JC; Cuthill, IC. 1998. Visual pigments, oil droplets and cone photoreceptor distribution in the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris). Journal of Experimental Biology. 201(9): 1433-1446.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
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Functional adaptation

Nests are parasite-free: starling
 

Starlings protect their chicks from parasitic insects by lining their nests with certain herbs.

   
  "Similarly, in 2000 Dr. Helga Gwinner and a team of researchers from the Ornithological Unit of Germany's Max Planck Society revealed that starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) lined their nests with herbs that ward off or kill nest parasites, such as fleas, lice, and mites. Experiments in which some nestlings were reared in nests lacking these herbs (and in which parasites therefore thrived) showed that these nestlings were anemic; nestlings reared in herb-lined nests were heavier and had stronger immune systems, as confirmed by the presence of greater quantities of infection-fighting cells in their blood." (Shuker 2001:218)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
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Functional adaptation

Enzyme quickly metabolizes alcohol: European starling
 

The metabolism of starlings breaks down alcohol quickly via an alcohol-splitting enzyme.

   
  "Many birds that consume fermented fruit duly suffer from the after-effects of alcohol abuse. Starlings (Sturnis vulgaris), however, seem immune to them, remaining surprisingly sober. The secret behind this phenomenon was revealed during the late 1990s by researchers Dr. Ghassem Hakimi and Dr. Roland Prinzinger at Frankfurt University in Germany."

"They discovered that starlings were able to metabolize alcohol at an exceptional speed, due to the rate of activity of the alcohol-splitting enzyme alcoholdehydrogenase, which is 14 times greater in starlings than in humans. This means that the birds can indulge themselves on fermented fruit without getting drunk, since the alcohol is broken down quickly." (Shuker 2001:221)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Sturnus vulgaris

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 22 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

ACTCGATGATTATTTTCAACCAACCACAAAGACATCGGTACCCTGTACCTAATTTTTGGTGCATGAGCCGGAATAGTAGGCACAGCCCTA---AGTCTACTTATTCGAGCAGAACTGGGCCAACCAGGCTCCCTACTCGGAGAC---GACCAAGTCTACAACGTAGTAGTTACAGCTCACGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTTATGGTTATACCTATCATAATCGGAGGCTTCGGGAACTGACTAGTCCCCCTAATA---ATCGGAGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCTCGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTTCTCCCCCCATCCTTCCTACTACTCCTAGCCTCCTCTACAGTCGAAGCAGGGGTTGGAACAGGCTGAACTGTCTACCCCCCTCTGGCTGGTAACCTCGCCCACGCTGGGGCCTCAGTAGACCTC---GCTATCTTCTCCCTACACCTGGCAGGGATCTCCTCAATCCTAGGGGCTATTAACTTCATCACAACCGCAATCAACATAAAACCACCTGCTCTATCACAATATCAAACTCCTCTGTTCGTCTGATCCGTACTCATCACCGCAGTACTACTACTCCTATCCCTCCCCGTACTTGCCGCC---GGCATTACCATGCTACTGACTGACCGCAACCTCAACACCACCTTCTTCGACCCTGCAGGAGGAGGGGACCCAGTACTATACCAACACCTATTCTGATTCTTCGGCCACCCGGAAGTCTATATCCTAATCCTCCCAGGATTCGGGATCATCTCCCACGTCGTAGCCTACTACTCAGGAAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGATACATGGGAATAGTCTGAGCCATGCTGTCTATCGGATTCCTAGGGTTCATCGTCTGAGCCCACCACATATTCACCGTAGGAATGGACGTAGACACCCGAGCATACTTCACGTCTGCCACCATGATCATCGCCATCCCTACAGGGATCAAAGTTTTCAGCTGACTA---GCAACC
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Sturnus vulgaris

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 22
Specimens with Barcodes: 35
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2015

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (extent of occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • 2014
    Least Concern (LC)
  • 2012
    Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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