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European Starling

Sturnus vulgaris

Length: 8.5 inches Wingspan: 15 inches Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: Black with iridescent green and purple sheen, short tail, long straight bill

European Starling - Sturnus vulgarisOriginally a Eurasian species introduced into New York's Central Park in 1890 by groups who wished to populate the new world with all the bird species mentioned in Shakespeare's works.  From the original 19th century introductions, the European Starling is now abundant throughout the United States and into Southern Canada.   Unfortunately, it competes with native species for nesting locations, causing a population decline for species such as the Eastern Bluebird and Red-headed Woodpecker.  European Starlings are quite gregarious, and may form very large flocks.


Urban centers, farmsteads and farm fields, or other disturbed areas.  Much less common in extensive natural settings such as unbroken forest, shrub/grassland, or desert.


Wide variety of items, including insects, earthworms, seeds, fruits, and berries. Seems to prefer insects when they are available. 


Primarily forages on the ground, but a variety of foraging techniques are used.  They will also climb through foliage for fruit, and glean insects from foliage and twigs.  European Starlings also will fly-catch occasionally, observing from a perch and flying out to capture passing flying insects.


May through June. European Starlings are cavity nesters, although they will use a variety of suitable locations. Tree cavities were historically their preferred nesting location, but they will now readily use nest boxes or cavities and crevices in human structures.  The nest is lined with a variety of material dependent upon location and what's available, but it may include feathers, grass, leaves, moss, twigs, fur, or other material. The female lays between 3 and 7 eggs, with both sexes sharing incubation duties. The eggs hatch after about 12 days, and the young will remain in the nest for another three weeks before fledging.


European Starlings are one of the most vocally talented birds in North America, with a repertoire that is virtually limitless, with their ability to even mimic some other birds. Vocalizations may include various whistles, gurgling sounds, chattering, warbling, and other vocalizations.


Some do move south in the fall, while others remain year-round. 

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of European Starling sightings

Similar Species:

Superficially similar to some blackbird species, but plumage differences, bill, and shape make it easily identifiable if seen well. The following blackbird species are those common in South Dakota and potentially confused with European Starlings (particularly since some of these species often hang out in mixed flocks with European Starlings):

Common Grackle 15 - Quiscalus quiscula Brown-headed Cowbird 8 - Molothrus ater Brewer's Blackbird - Euphagus cyanocephalus  Red-winged Blackbird 1 - Agelaius phoeniceus 
Common Grackle Brown-headed Cowbird Brewer's Blackbird Red-winged Blackbird


European Starlings will come to feeders for a wide variety of food items, including suet, seeds, peanuts, bread, and many other items.


Much to the chagrin of those who put out nest boxes, European Starlings will use bluebird-sized or larger nest boxes. More years than not, the owl box in my yard has European Starlings using it (and to date, never an owl!).

Conservation Status:

In both the North American and European parts of their range, systematic surveys over the last few decades have shown modest declines in European Starling populations. However, they remain one of the most widely spread birds in the world, and they are common in many parts of that range. The IUCN considers the European Starling to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 4th, 2018 - Brandon, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution European Starling photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
European Starling - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common permanent resident throughout South Dakota

Additional European Starling Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 European Starling 1 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 2 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 3 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 4 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 5 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 6 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 7 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 8 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 9 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 10 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 11 - Sturnus vulgarisEuropean Starling 12 - Sturnus vulgaris