As the name suggests, European starlings are introduced birds from across the sea. Originally released in 1908 in New York City’s Central Park in an attempt to establish every bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare to the New World, starlings have spread like wildfire. Now common and well established in all corners of our Commonwealth, it looks like starlings are here to stay.
At more than eight inches from bill to tail tip, starlings are noticeably larger than sparrows but don’t quite measure up to robins or blue jays. Starlings have short, stubby tails, and their fairly long, straight bills are banana yellow during the breeding season and gray-black at other times of the year. Adult European starlings show glossy black plumage with numerous light spangles during the winter, but these wear off by the time breeding begins, and the iridescent black feathers reflect shades of green and violet. Juvenile starlings are a uniform drab brown—identify them by shape or voice.
Starlings are exceptionally gregarious, flocking (often in great numbers) at all times of the year. These flocks are often noisy, making a range of chatters, rasps, whistles, clatters, and clicking noises. When feeding, starlings often rove across the ground with determined steps, using their long, strong bills to probe and pry at the soil for invertebrate prey. They will also consume seeds.
European starlings are an introduced species, and they compete with native birds for nesting cavities. While they remain common and widespread in all seasons, starlings appear to be undergoing a gradual population decline. Learn more in the Breeding Bird Atlas 2.