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European Starling

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A European starling photographed at Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley in San Jose, California

About the European Starling

Widespread and abundant in much of North America, the introduced European starling is arguably and problematically the most successful bird on the continent. Often characterized as bold, this bird is actually fairly wary and can be difficult to approach. Poly­typic. Length 8.7".

Identification

Stocky and short tailed, often seen strutting about lawns and parking lots. Flight profile distinctive: buzzy in sustained flight, wings look triangular in more leisurely flight. In flight, wings appear translucent. Adult: one molt per year, but fresh fall adults look very different from summer birds. On freshly molted birds, black plumage has white spots all over; by winter, spots start to disappear; and by spring, the birds are glossy black all over, with strong suffusions of iridescent pinks, greens, and ambers. Bill usually gray in fall and yellow by winter, but this character varies with diet. Male: with good look, note blue-based bill. Female: with good look, note pink-based bill, paler eyes. Juvenile: distinctive; dark gray-brown feathering all over. Birds begin a complete molt into adultlike plumage soon after fledging, and briefly exhibit a striking mosaic of juvenal and adult feathers.

Geographic Variation

Apparently, only the nominate subspecies occurs here; 12 other subspecies in Old World.

Similar Species

Structure distinctive, but sometimes confused with un­related blackbirds, which often co-occur with starlings in large flocks. Blackbirds more slender bodied, with longer tails and less-pointy wings. Flight profile more like a waxwing’s or a meadowlark’s than blackbird’s.

Voice

Highly varied. Call: commonly heard calls include drawn-out, hissing sssssheeeer and whistled wheeeeoooo. Song: elaborate, lengthy (>1 min. long), with complex rattling and whirring elements, and overall wheezy quality; call notes may be incorporated into song. Imitates other species, especially those with whistled notes (e.g., killdeer, eastern wood pewee).

Status and Distribution

Abundant. Breeding: needs natural or artificial cavities. Often evicts native species from nest holes. Migration: withdraws in winter from northern portion of range. Winter: gregarious, with largest concentrations around cities, feedlots. Vagrant: still expanding range in the Americas, and out-of-range individuals (e.g., on western Aleutians) are difficult to assess.

Population

Successfully introduced in Central Park, New York, 1890–91; across continent by late 1940s. Population currently exceeds 200 million.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006