Metallic iridescent plumage plays well in light.
European Starling, Common Starling
In winter, the male starling has glossy black plumage, with buff tips to the feathers of the upperparts. In the summer, its plumage takes on a dazzling metallic multi-coloured sheen. In spring, the male has a wholly unspotted breast and blue-grey at the base of the lower mandible. Sexes are similar, while the female retains some pale spots on underparts year-round and has a pale lower mandible base, it is generally less glossy than the male. After the autumn moult, adults have fresh, creamy tips to body feathers, while wing feathers are edged orange-brown. Starlings have long reddish-brown legs. They have a distinctively narrow skull with brown eyes with a whitish ring on the iris. Their bill is lemon-yellow bill, and has a pinkish base in the breeding season. The juvenile starling looks like a different species, with mouse-brown plumage, and is darker above than below. It also shows a whitish chin and a grey-brown bill. When moult is almost complete, young birds are all spotted apart from their heads
The starling’s song is a lively medley of whistles, gurgles and mimicry. In fact, the starling is a skilled mimic and can imitate other garden birds, as well as car alarms and mobile phone ringtones. On take-off and in flight will emit a short, buzzing “churr”.
Common Starling Song
Ramya, XC610872. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/610872.
Andrew Harrop, XC502019. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/502019.
Starlings eat worms, insects, fruit, seeds and nectar. In the breeding season, they will mostly eat insects and larvae. Flocks will also forage on fruit trees and shoreline seaweed.
Starlings are widespread throughout the UK, occurring everywhere except for the northernmost parts of the Scottish highlands. They are most abundant in southern England and are regular visitors to gardens. Small groups will often use bird tables and can drive away other birds. Starlings are famous for their murmurations when they flock together in autumn and perform acrobatic displays that shapeshift through the sky. These usually occur at dusk.
Winter roosts of starlings can hold up to several million birds.
The starling’s long legs give it a jaunty gait and it can be distinguished from the blackbird as it strides rather than hops. Feeding parties on grass bustle along often quarrelling. A colony or winter feeding group will suddenly rise in a tight flock to mob a raptor while issuing a war cry. The starling has a generally direct flightpath with slight undulations. Its silhouette during flight is distinctive with rather pointed wings and a short tail.
Starling feeding a Juvenile
Breeding takes place during the spring and summer. The male starling puffs out his neck feathers during the mating display, and will also sing to attract a mate. Starlings are happy to nest in urban areas, taking advantage of artificial structures on which to build their nests. Elsewhere, they prefer reedbeds. Females lay a clutch of 2-9 eggs over several days, that are white to pale blue or green. These will be incubated for 13 days. Nestlings remain in the nest for around 3 weeks and are fed continuously by the parents. A pair can raise up to 3 broods a year.
The average lifespan of a starling is around 5 years.
British starlings are generally resident and can be joined by large numbers of birds from Eastern Europe in the autumn. At the same time, some British birds will take off for Iberia or North Africa.
Starling close up
Although it is still a common visitor to gardens, the starling has declined in numbers elsewhere and is therefore classed as a Red List species in the UK. However, there are still over 1,800,000 breeding pairs in the UK. Despite increased numbers in areas such as Northern Ireland, England has witnessed an overall decline, thought to be due to a change in farming practises.