Of the more than 150 species of birds that nest in Kentucky, none is more reviled than the Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris).
Even its name says vulgar.There are many reasons to dislike this nonnative, invasive species. It competes for cavity nest sites with the beloved Eastern Bluebird, a harbinger of spring, and several species of woodpeckers.
Starlings are a mobile reservoir of disease, hosts to a wide variety of parasites, including fleas, mites and ticks. There is some evidence to suggest that the range expansion of some species of ticks, and the spread of the severe diseases they carry, is due in part to the abundance of the Common Starling.
In urban areas, large roosts of hundreds of thousands of birds sometimes form, and their toxic droppings splatter sidewalks and may accumulate enough at the base to trees to kill them.
Histoplasmosis is a disease caused by the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum that grows in soil where starling droppings are present. Inhaling airborne spores can cause infection, which gets worse with long exposure. This illness targets the lungs and can be serious or fatal in humans, especially those with immune disorders.
Common Starlings are often found scavenging for scraps of bread and french fries in fast food parking lots. There’s nothing beautiful, awe-inspiring or redeeming about this urban trash bird.
In Kentucky the Common Starling is not a protected species, which means it may be taken year-round by licensed hunters, or persons who are license exempt, such as resident landowners hunting on their own property.
There are no closed seasons or bag limits.
Consult local laws about discharging air rifles, rimfire rifles or shotguns in urban and suburban neighborhoods.
Range and Distribution
The Common Starling is not indigenous to North America.
It was brought here in 1890, by persons who thought this species would be beneficial to agriculture by controlling invertebrate pests, however, starlings can be pests themselves in large flocks, when they feed on fruit and sprouting crops.Since its introduction, the Common Starling, often referred to as the European Starling, has spread to occupy most of North America. In fall and winter they gather in huge flocks.
Worldwide, there are about 12 subspecies.
The Common Starling’s native range is Europe and western Asia.
But it has also been introduced into Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, South Africa and Fiji, perhaps by homesick English settlers.
There is a huge global population of these adaptable birds. In 2004 the global population was estimated to be 310 million.
Size and Coloration
The Common Starling is a medium-sized bird, about eight inches from head to tail. Its plumage is glossy black with a metallic sheen, speckled with white. Its legs are pink and the bill is black in winter and yellow in summer.
Young birds have brownish plumage.
The Common Starling is at home in cities, suburbs, and farmlands, so-called disturbed habitats, but is usually scarce or absent in extensively-forested areas and deserts.
This bird is particularly fond of sheds, barns and outbuildings. It likes to nest in abandoned houses, surrounded by row crops in farm country.
Feeding Behavior and Diet
The Common Starling forages mostly on the ground in open areas, often probing in soil with bill. Sometimes it feeds on fruit up in trees, and catches flying insects in the air.
Its diet is mostly insects, berries, and seeds. When available its preferred insects are beetles, grasshoppers, flies and caterpillars, but also eats spiders, snails and earthworms.
In the fall and winter, the starling eats a wide variety of berries, fruits, and seeds, and is a hog at backyard bird feeders.Reproduction and Nesting
The male establishes territory and chooses nest site, singing to attract a mate.
He perches next to nest site and sings, often waving his wings. Males sometimes have more than one mate.
Their nest site is any kind of cavity, usually in natural hollow or woodpecker hole in tree, also holes or crevices in old buildings.
Nest construction is begun by male, often completed by female, who may throw out some of male’s nest material.
Their nest is a loose mass of twigs, weeds, grass, leaves, trash, feathers, with slight depression for the four to six greenish white to bluish white eggs.
Incubation is by both parents, and lasts about 12 days.
Both parents feed the nestlings, and young leave the nest about 21 days after hatching.
Pairs usually raise two broods per year.
A nuisance to be sure, the Common Starling is an obnoxious, noisy, dirty bird, especially in communal roosts, and a danger to human health.
Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward and the NKyTribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors