Invasive Species Profile: European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Originating in Europe, the European Starling is a medium-sized songbird found across the continental United States. This species entered the country around 1890, when Shakespeare enthusiast, Eugene Schieffelin released 60 European Starling into the wild to introduce all birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s work to the U.S.

Since their release, there are millions of starlings across the country, dwelling in the lower 48 states. Considered an invasive terrestrial species by the USDA, European starlings pose a risk to the environment and other species, destroying crops and infrastructure while outcompeting native birds for nesting spots. Below are ways you can identify the European Starling and how to mitigate their impact.

How to Identify: The European Starling has a glossy black to brown plumage that may take on a purplish-green hue in warmer months, with white spots appearing in the winter. Their stout, yellow bill helps the species probe into the ground for food.  The European starling’s colorful appearance is further enhanced by their reddish-orange legs and feet. Though this bird has many variations of plumage, all starlings have short, dark colored tails that do not fan out even during flight. Both genders are between 7.9 to 9.1 inches in length and weigh in around 2.1 to 3.4 ounces. With short, pointed wings, the starling takes on the shape of a star in flight, hence their name. European starlings are highly vocal all year round, producing a variety of clicks, whistles, and chirps.

Spread: European Starlings are prolific breeders, producing up to two broods of four to six eggs per year. These birds have an incubation period of 11 to 16 days and begin to fly 18 to 21 days after hatching. European starlings have very few predators, with larger birds and humans posing the greatest risks. Despite this, starlings travel in large flocks, helping them better identify and flee from predators. This species can survive in a range of habitats, helping European starlings spread and adapt to new environments quickly.

Impact: European starlings have a devastating impact on native ecosystems across the country. This species poses a risk to the agricultural industry, destroying fruit and grain crops throughout the year, while also contaminating food and water sources for livestock. European starlings carry a slew of diseases that are harmful to humans and animals such as salmonella, blastomycosis, and transmissible gastroenteritis. This species is known for their aggression towards other cavity nesting birds, outcompeting native species for nesting spots and food sources. European starlings may become violent towards competing species, destroying their nests, and pecking holes in eggs laid by other birds. Starling nests may also cause damage to infrastructure, clogging drainpipes and gutters, creating fire hazards, and disrupting structural integrity.

Prevention:  There are several methods to deter the spread of European starling in the Pacific Northwest. To prevent roosting in buildings, property owners should install barriers at possible points of entry, replace loose siding and shingles, and check small cavities and spaces frequently to remove starling nests. Farmers can protect their crops from starlings by covering plants in bird netting and using scare devices such as Mylar balloons and scare tape. Using bird traps may also control the starling population, though this method puts other species at risk.