Tuesday 21 May
European starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
European starling fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
European starling description
The European starling (Sturnus vulgaris), a familiar bird in both urban and rural areas (5), may at first glance be confused with a blackbird due to its yellow beak and blackish plumage (2). The European starling however, has many differences; it is smaller, and the feathers have an iridescent bluish-purple and greenish sheen, there are also some yellowish spots on the body (6). The sexes are similar, but in spring and summer the males lose the spots on the breast, and the lower part of the bill becomes bluish towards the base (2). In winter the bill becomes dark in both sexes. Juveniles are greyish-brown, and immature birds retain a greyish brown head but have a spotted body (2). A wide range of chuckles, whistles, knocking and grating sounds are produced, along with good imitations of the songs of other birds (6).
- Etourneau sansonnet.
- Length: 19 - 22 cm (2)
European starling biology
A wide variety of food is eaten by the European starling, such as insects and grains, as well as items from bird tables, rubbish dumps, the seashore and sewage farms (5). The beak is well adapted for probing the soil, and leatherjackets (cranefly larvae) are a major source of food (8).
The European starling is a gregarious bird; this is particularly in evidence during winter, when individuals feed in flocks and often roost in huge numbers (5). Towards dusk, enormous flocks often form near the roost sites, with birds preening, singing and resting before flying into the roost. This is often a spectacular sight, involving a swirling aerial display of the co-ordinated movements of a huge number of European starlings (5).
During the breeding season, the nest, an untidy pile of twigs, grasses, moss, wool and feathers, is made in a hole, typically in a building or a tree (9). The male begins nest construction, but the female completes it (6). After mid-April, five to seven bluish eggs are usually laid, although up to nine eggs have been known in a clutch (6). Both parents incubate the eggs for up to 15 days, they then feed the chicks for 20 to 22 days (6). After fledging, the juveniles are often seen following their parents as they feed, begging for food (2).Top
European starling range
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, European starlings were quite rare (7). After that, they underwent an increase in numbers, and were one of Britain's most widespread and common birds, found throughout Britain, except on higher ground in Scotland (5). However, the species has more recently suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune; since the 1980s, European starling abundance has decreased severely, giving great cause for conservation concern (3). The greatest declines of a shocking 92 percent have occurred in woodland, but this may represent sub-optimal habitat for the European starling. On farmland declines of 66 percent have occurred (8). Outside of Britain, the European starling occurs throughout Europe, reaching central and southern Asia, and has been introduced to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and North America (9).Top
European starling habitat
The European starling is found in a huge range of habitats, from city centres to marshlands, and breeds in woods, cities, towns, parks, gardens, cliffs, and quarries (6).Top
European starling status
The European starling is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is widespread, but currently undergoing a rapid decline (3). Protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, and included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List (high conservation concern) (4).Top
European starling threats
The dramatic decline of the European starling, formerly one of our commonest and most familiar birds is thought to be due to the widespread loss of permanent pasture, an important feeding habitat, as a result of the intensification of agriculture (3).Top
European starling conservation
The European starling has been upgraded to the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List, and is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act in Britain (4).Top
Find out more
For more information on the European starling:
BBC Wildlife Finder:
For more information on the European staling and other bird species:
Information authenticated by the RSPB:
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Stage in an animal's lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
- Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
JNCC: Breeding Birds in the Wider Countryside (Nov 2002):
RSPB Starling information page (Nov 2002):
- Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
- Gooder, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
- Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air; the names, lore and literature of British birds. Book Club Associates, London.
Investigation of the Causes of the Decline of House Sparrow and Starling in Great Britain Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (Nov 2002):
- Walters, M. (1994) Eyewitness handbooks: Bird's eggs. Dorling Kindersley, London.
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.
Listen to the European starling
European starling recordings by Geoffrey A. Keller
© Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
New York 14850
United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439