European starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

French: Etourneau sansonnet
GenusSturnus (1)
SizeLength: 19 - 22 cm (2)

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).

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).

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).

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).

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).

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).

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).

For more information on the European starling:

For more information on the European staling and other bird species:

Information authenticated by the RSPB:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. JNCC: Breeding Birds in the Wider Countryside (Nov 2002):
  4. RSPB Starling information page (Nov 2002):
  5. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  6. Gooder, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  7. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air; the names, lore and literature of British birds. Book Club Associates, London.
  8. Investigation of the Causes of the Decline of House Sparrow and Starling in Great Britain Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (Nov 2002):
  9. Walters, M. (1994) Eyewitness handbooks: Bird's eggs. Dorling Kindersley, London.