Photos: SR7 Photo/Adobe Stock
The European starling is a cavity nesting bird that was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s. They are now widespread throughout the continental United States. European starlings can compete with native species for cavity nesting sites.
The coloring of European starlings changes with the seasons. Spring through summer, their feathers are iridescent black/purple/green with some white spots and their bills (beaks) are yellow. Fall through winter, they are black and brown, the white spots are larger and more numerous, and their bills are black. Males and females look similar.
European starlings weigh 2.1-3.4 ounces. They are 7.9-9.1 inches long with a wingspan of 12.2-15.8 inches.
European starlings are present in Minnesota year-round and occupy a great variety of habitats including suburban, rural, and woodlands. They tend to avoid dense forests away from human habitation. Normally they select old woodpecker cavities or natural cavities for nesting. They usually nest earlier than many other cavity nesters.
European starlings can form large flocks. They eat invertebrates, fruits, grains, and seeds. They nest in cavities and lay eggs in the spring. The male and females incubate the eggs for about 12 days until the eggs hatch. After about 3 weeks, the young birds leave the nest. Pairs often lay a second batch of eggs after the first brood has left.
Origin and spread
European starlings are native to Europe, southwest Asia, and northern Africa. As early as 1872, people began purposefully introducing European starlings to the United States. European starlings are now widespread and abundant across the continental United States. The Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas has a national level map of European starling abundance and Minnesota distribution map.
Don't be fooled by these look-alikes
- Brewer’s blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus (native) – Male Brewer’s blackbirds are iridescent birds, but they have black bills and they do not have any white spots. They are also birds of grasslands and open country, which means they’re not likely to be seen in urban and suburban environments in Minnesota. They are present in Minnesota from about mid-April through mid-October.
- Red-winged blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus (native) – Male red-winged blackbirds are solid black with a red and yellow patch on their shoulders. Female red-winged blackbirds look more similar to European starlings with brown feathers with white spots, but they lack any black feathers and appear more streaky overall with a thicker bill. Red-winged blackbirds are present spring through fall but mostly absent in winter in Minnesota.
- Brown-headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater (native) – Male brown-headed cowbirds have slightly iridescent black bodies with brown heads, whereas females are a plain dull brown overall. They do not have white spots. Their bills are shorter and thicker than those of starlings. They are present in Minnesota from spring through fall and mostly absent in winter.
- Regulatory classification
European starlings are a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Unregulated Nonnative Species meaning that they are not subject to regulation under Minnesota Invasive Species Statutes, but refer to hunting regulations for regulations on hunting or transporting these species.
- Threat to Minnesota
- European starlings compete with native bird species, especially cavity-nesting birds such as woodpeckers, martins, and bluebirds which can be evicted by European starlings during the breeding season.
- European starlings are also considered an agricultural pest in some areas, eating grains, sprouting seeds, and livestock feed.
- What you should do
- Modify entrance holes to purple martin houses by using D-shaped entrance plates.
- Monitor wood duck boxes weekly.
- Use small (1.5-inch diameter) entrance holes in blue bird nest boxes.
- Use a starling-proof suet feeder.
This species is unregulated, but you can add to the public information about this species by reporting new occurrences through EDDMapS.
- European starling identification and life history (The Cornell Lab)
- European starling population and distribution in Minnesota (Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas)
- European starling impacts (New York Invasive Species Information)