Taxonomic name: Sturnus vulgaris (Linnaeus)
Common names: blackbird (English-USA), common starling (English), English starling (English), estornino pinto (Spanish-Spain), etourneau sansonnet (French-France), étourneau sansonnet (French), Europäischer Star (German), European starling (English)
Organism type: bird
Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, Sturnus vulgaris (the European starling) has been introduced globally, save in neotropic regions. The starling prefers lowland habitats and is an aggressive omnivore. Sturnus vulgaris cost hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural damage each year and contribute to the decline of local native bird species through competition for resources and nesting spaces.
The European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a small bird approximately 21.5cm, long and weighing around 70 to 100grms. Iridescent green glossed feathers cover the nape, breast and back of the bird, while the wings are black, sometimes with a green or purple veneer. During the winter white flecking may appear on the starling's breast. (Chow, 2000)
Agelaius phoeniceus, Molothrus aeneus, Quiscalus quiscula, Turdus merula
agricultural areas, coastland, natural forests, planted forests, range/grasslands, riparian zones, ruderal/disturbed, scrub/shrublands, tundra, urban areas, wetlands
European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) prefer lowland habitats to more mountainous terrain. They are secondary cavity nesters, using extant cracks, crevices, and cavities created by other species. During breeding season the European starling requires holes for nesting and vegetation fields for feeding. The rest of the year it will utilise a wider range of habitats from moorland to salt marshes. European starlings are highly adaptable when selecting nest hollows, e.g. fence posts, roof linings under guttering (there has been an observation of a starling nest in the wool of a live sheep) (John Tracey, pers.comm., 2004)
European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) cause damage to agricultural crops. When significant numbers are present starling flocks may descend on fruit and grain crop fields to forage, causing massive damage and can have a heavy economic effect. European starlings are extremely aggressive omnivores, and will compete with native fauna for food. Open bill probing is most commonly used for ground invertebrates, which is their preferred food. Hence this provides the European starling with an evolutionary advantage over frugivores. Fruit damage is often found to be caused by a higher proportion of juveniles, which have underdeveloped probing skills. Usurping nests by contamination (as well as physical competition) is also a major problem (e.g. native parrots use little, if any, bedding, whereas starlings will rapidly fill and contaminate tree hollows). European starlings are also a public nuisance and can damage infrastructures, roof linings, etc. and negatively effect aesthetics (Weber 1979).
European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) play an active role in the control of insect populations. Many people also consider the starling to be aesthetically pleasing, and keep them as pets. (Adeney, 2001)
European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) often form huge flocks of upwards of 3,000 birds.
Native range: Europe, Southwest Asia and Northern Africa.
Known introduced range: North America, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. (Adeney, 2001)
Introduction pathways to new locations
Biological control: European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were introduced to New Zealand to control local insect populations
For ornamental purposes: European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were allegedly introduced to the U.S. as part of a movement to introduce all the birds of Shakespeare to the States.
Natural dispersal: European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) have spread into Canada and Northern Mexico from the US.
Transportation of domesticated animals: People may move European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) to new areas by taking their pet birds with them.
Local dispersal methods
Natural dispersal (local):
Physical: Manual methods such as exclusion, trapping, and shooting have been employed in an attempt to control European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) populations. Mechanical controls include scaring with the use of sonic devices. (Adeney, 2001; Kern, 2003).
European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are omnivores and subsist mainly on seeds, insects, invertebrates, plants and fruit. (Chow, 2000)
Reproduction is sexual; oviparous. Breeding season in the Northern Hemisphere generally begins late March and runs through to early July. The southern hemisphere breeding season runs between September and December. European starling clutches contain between 4-6 blue-green eggs. Females may lay as many as three clutches in a single breeding season. (Kern, 2003, Chow, 2000)
Eggs incubate in the nest for up to 15 days. The juvenile European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) will stay in the nest for 21 to 23 days and may continue to beg parents for food for a few days after leaving the nest. Banding studies have shown that European starlings can live up to 21 years in the wild. (Chow, 2000, CWBO, 2004)
This species has been nominated as among 100 of the "World's Worst" invaders
Reviewed by: John Tracey, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange New South Wales, Australia
Principal sources: Long, J. L., 1981. Introduced Birds of the World. Reed, Sydney.
Weber, W. J., 1979. Health hazards from pigeons, starlings and English sparrows. Thomson Publications, California.
Compiled by: Brandon Gehrke supervised by Dr. Deborah Rudnick University of Washington, Tacoma & IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)
Updates with support from the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP) project XOT603, a joint project with the Cayman Islands Government - Department of Environment
Last Modified: Monday, 4 October 2010