Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Sturnus vulgaris
(common starling)

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Datasheet

Sturnus vulgaris (common starling)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 08 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Sturnus vulgaris
  • Preferred Common Name
  • common starling
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Aves
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, Sturnus vulgaris (the European starling) has been introduced globally, save in Neotropical regions. The European starling prefers lowland habitats...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris); adult. Toulouse, France. February, 2012.
TitleAdult
CaptionCommon starling (Sturnus vulgaris); adult. Toulouse, France. February, 2012.
Copyright©Pierre Selim Huard-2012 - CC BY-SA 3.0
Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris); adult. Toulouse, France. February, 2012.
AdultCommon starling (Sturnus vulgaris); adult. Toulouse, France. February, 2012.©Pierre Selim Huard-2012 - CC BY-SA 3.0
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris); juvenile. Kensington Gardens, London, England. June, 2008.
TitleJuvenile
CaptionCommon Starling (Sturnus vulgaris); juvenile. Kensington Gardens, London, England. June, 2008.
Copyright©Garry Knight-2007 - CC BY-SA 2.0
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris); juvenile. Kensington Gardens, London, England. June, 2008.
JuvenileCommon Starling (Sturnus vulgaris); juvenile. Kensington Gardens, London, England. June, 2008.©Garry Knight-2007 - CC BY-SA 2.0
Sturnus vulgaris (European or Common Starling). Its feathers are in transition to first-winter plumage. Part of a large flock of mixed blackbirds/Starlings at Crissy Field, San Francisco, California, USA. August, 2009.
TitleImmature
CaptionSturnus vulgaris (European or Common Starling). Its feathers are in transition to first-winter plumage. Part of a large flock of mixed blackbirds/Starlings at Crissy Field, San Francisco, California, USA. August, 2009.
Copyright©Ingrid Taylar- 2009 - CC BY 2.0
Sturnus vulgaris (European or Common Starling). Its feathers are in transition to first-winter plumage. Part of a large flock of mixed blackbirds/Starlings at Crissy Field, San Francisco, California, USA. August, 2009.
ImmatureSturnus vulgaris (European or Common Starling). Its feathers are in transition to first-winter plumage. Part of a large flock of mixed blackbirds/Starlings at Crissy Field, San Francisco, California, USA. August, 2009.©Ingrid Taylar- 2009 - CC BY 2.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Sturnus vulgaris (Linnaeus)

Preferred Common Name

  • common starling

International Common Names

  • English: blackbird; common starling; English starling; European starling
  • Spanish: estornino; estornino pinto
  • French: etourneau; etourneau sansonnet; étourneau sansonnet; sansonnet

Local Common Names

  • Denmark: stær
  • Finland: kottarainen
  • Germany: Europäischer Star; Star
  • Italy: storno
  • Norway: stær
  • Sweden: stare

EPPO code

  • STURVU (Sturnus vulgaris)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, Sturnus vulgaris (the European starling) has been introduced globally, save in Neotropical regions. The European starling prefers lowland habitats and is an aggressive omnivore. S. vulgaris costs hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural damage each year (estimated annual cost to agriculture in the USA is $800 million, based on $5/ha damage; Linz et al. 2007). S. vulgaris also contributes to the decline of local native bird species through competition for resources and nesting spaces. S. vulgaris can also act as a disease vector with implications for livestock and human health. The European starling has been nominated as among 100 of the "World's Worst" invaders.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Aves
  •                     Order: Passeriformes
  •                         Family: Sturnidae
  •                             Genus: Sturnus
  •                                 Species: Sturnus vulgaris

Description

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The European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a small bird approximately 21.5cm, long and weighing around 70 to 100grms. Iridescent green glossed feathers cover the nape, breast and back of the bird, whilst the wings are black, sometimes with a green or purple veneer. During the winter white flecking may appear on the starling's breast (Chow, 2000).

Distribution

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Native range: Europe, Southwest Asia and Northern Africa.
Known introduced range: North America, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia (Adeney, 2001). After numerous failed attempts, an introduction in New York in 1890 and 1891 led to the permanent establishment of European starlings in North America; all or most of the starlings in North America, Central America and the Caribbean are thought to derive from the 16 pairs originally introduced to New York (Linz et al. 2007).
 

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Africa

BotswanaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
GhanaPresentNative Not invasive ISSG, 2011

North America

BermudaPresentIntroducedearly 1950s Invasive ISSG, 2011
CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-British ColumbiaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
-Newfoundland and LabradorPresent
MexicoPresentNatureserve, 2012
USAPresentIntroduced1890 Invasive ISSG, 2011
-CaliforniaPresent
-MarylandPresent

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasPresentNatureserve, 2012
British Virgin IslandsPresentNatureserve, 2012
CubaPresentNatureserve, 2012
JamaicaPresentNatureserve, 2012
Netherlands AntillesPresentNatureserve, 2012
PanamaPresentNatureserve, 2012
Puerto RicoPresentNatureserve, 2012
Turks and Caicos IslandsPresentNatureserve, 2012
United States Virgin IslandsPresentNatureserve, 2012

South America

ArgentinaPresentNatureserve, 2012

Europe

BulgariaPresent
Czech RepublicPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
FrancePresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
NetherlandsPresent
PolandPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
SlovakiaPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
UKPresent

Oceania

AustraliaPresentIntroduced1862-1883 Invasive ISSG, 2011
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
New ZealandPresentIntroduced1862-1883 Invasive Greathead and Greathead, 1992; ISSG, 2011

Habitat

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European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) prefer lowland habitats to more mountainous terrain. They are secondary cavity nesters, using extant cracks, crevices, and cavities created by other species. During breeding season the European starling requires holes for nesting and vegetation fields for feeding. The rest of the year it will utilise a wider range of habitats from moorland to salt marshes. European starlings are highly adaptable when selecting nest hollows, e.g. fence posts, roof linings under guttering (there has been an observation of a starling nest in the wool of a live sheep) (John Tracey, pers. comm., 2004).

Habitat List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Littoral
Coastal areas Present, no further details
Terrestrial-managed
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details
Disturbed areas Present, no further details
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details
Terrestrial-natural
semi-natural/Cold lands / tundra Present, no further details
semi-natural/Natural forests Present, no further details
semi-natural/Natural grasslands Present, no further details
semi-natural/Riverbanks Present, no further details
semi-natural/Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details
semi-natural/Wetlands Present, no further details

Biology and Ecology

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Nutrition
European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are omnivores and subsist mainly on seeds, insects, invertebrates, plants and fruit (Chow, 2000).

    Reproduction
    Reproduction is sexual; oviparous. Breeding season in the Northern Hemisphere generally begins late March and runs through to early July. The Southern Hemisphere breeding season runs between September and December. European starling clutches contain between 4-6 blue-green eggs. Females may lay as many as three clutches in a single breeding season (Kern, 2003, Chow, 2000).

      Lifecycle stages
      Eggs incubate in the nest for up to 15 days. The juvenile European starling (S. vulgaris) will stay in the nest for 21 to 23 days and may continue to beg parents for food for a few days after leaving the nest. Banding studies have shown that European starlings can live up to 21 years in the wild. (Chow, 2000, CWBO, 2004).

      Behaviour
      European starlings are gregarious and often form huge flocks of upwards of 3,000 birds.

      Natural enemies

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      Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
      Tyto alba Predator

      Means of Movement and Dispersal

      Top of page Introduction pathways to new locations
      Acclimatisation societies:
      Biological control: European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were introduced to New Zealand to control local insect populations
      For ornamental purposes: European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were allegedly introduced to the U.S. as part of a movement to introduce all the birds of Shakespeare to the States.
      Natural dispersal: European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) have spread into Canada and Northern Mexico from the US.
      Transportation of domesticated animals: People may move European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) to new areas by taking their pet birds with them.

      Local dispersal methods
      Natural dispersal (local):

      Pathway Causes

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      CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
      Acclimatization societies Yes Yes
      Biological control Yes
      Ornamental purposes Yes

      Impact Summary

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      CategoryImpact
      Crop production Negative
      Cultural/amenity Negative
      Economic/livelihood Negative
      Native fauna Negative

      Impact

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      European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) cause damage to agricultural crops. When significant numbers are present, starling flocks may descend on fruit and grain crop fields to forage; this causes massive damage and can have a heavy economic effect. European starlings are extremely aggressive omnivores, and will compete with native fauna for food. Open bill probing is most commonly used for ground invertebrates, which is their preferred food. Hence this provides the European starling with an evolutionary advantage over frugivores. Fruit damage is often found to be caused by a higher proportion of juveniles, which have underdeveloped probing skills (Brochier, 2010). Usurping nests by contamination (as well as physical competition) is also a major problem (e.g. native parrots use little, if any, bedding, whereas starlings will rapidly fill and contaminate tree hollows).

      European starlings are also a public nuisance and can damage infrastructures, roof linings, etc. and negatively affect aesthetics (Weber 1979). Urban problems can be enhanced during the winter when they seek shelter and warmth. In addition, because of their large flocks, when they roost near airports there is the potential for bird-aircraft collisions which can result in jet engine damage and loss of human life (Linz et al. 2007).

      S. vulgaris are recognised as a potential human and animal health hazard; they carry many infectious organisms and have been implicated in the transmission of numerous human and animal diseases (see Linz et al. 2007 for a review). Recent concerns include contamination by starlings of livestock feeding facilities; such concerns have arisen because of their tendency to congregate and contaminate feeding facilities and to interact closely with cattle. Kauffman et al. (2011) showed that S. vulgaris can carry the pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7 from farm to farm and transmit infection to cattle, this threatens human health through meat consumption. Carlson et al. (2011) found that local control of S. vulgaris at a concentrated animal feeding operation could be used as a component in the control of the foodborne pathogen Salmonella enterica.
       

      Risk and Impact Factors

      Top of page Invasiveness
      • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
      Impact outcomes
      • Negatively impacts agriculture
      • Threat to/ loss of native species
      Impact mechanisms
      • Competition - monopolizing resources
      • Pest and disease transmission

      Uses

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      European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) play an active role in the control of insect populations. Many people also consider the starling to be aesthetically pleasing, and keep them as pets (Adeney, 2001).

      Uses List

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      Environmental

      • Biological control

      General

      • Pet/aquarium trade

      Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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      The most similar species to the European starling are the other blackbirds. The Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) and the Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) are the most common eastern blackbirds. All three of these species have dark bills and legs, which distinguishes them from the European Starling (GWW, 2000). Another similar species, the common blackbird (Turdus merula), is also invasive in some parts of its range (John Tracey, pers. comm., Sept. 2004).

         

        Prevention and Control

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        Physical/mechanical: Non-lethal methods are commonly used, such as warding starlings away using sonic devices, hawk kites, or propane exploders. However, non-lethal methods often have only a temporary effect (Linz et al., 2007). Other methods include exclusion, anti-perching devices and shooting. (Adeney, 2001; Kern, 2003; Campbell, 2012). Trapping followed by euthanasia is also used as a control method. In this case, a live bird may be placed in the trap so that other starlings are lured more effectively, because as gregarious birds, European starlings are often attracted to traps containing a live conspecific (Campbell, 2012).

        Chemical: Lethal or deterrent chemicals are used (Campbell, 2012). Linz et al. (2007) mention the exampe of 4-aminopyridine which can be both lethal and a deterrent (not only can it be fatal to birds that ingest it, ingestion causes birds to give warning cries which frighten away other birds). Lethal chemicals are often associated with problems of lethality to non-target organisms.

        Bibliography

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        Adeney, Jennifer Marion. 2001. Introduced Species Summary Project: European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). http://www.columbia.edu/itc/cerc/danoff-burg/invasion_bio/inv_spp_summ/Sturnus_vulgaris.html

        Airola, Daniel A; Grantham, Jesse. Jones and Stokes, Purple Martin population status, nesting habitat characteristics, and management in Sacramento, California Western Birds. 34(4). 2003. 235-251.

        Bomford, M., 2003. Risk Assessment for the Import and Keeping of Exotic Vertebrates in Australia. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Canberra. http://www.feral.org.au/feral_documents/PC12803.pdf

        Brochier B., Vangeluwe D., Berg T. van den, Pastoret P.P., Moutou F. 2010. Alien invasive birds. Revue Scientifique et Technique 29: 217-225.

        Campbell S., Cook S., Mortimer L., Palmer G., Sinclair R., Woolnough A.P. 2012. To catch a starling: testing the effectiveness of different trap and lure types. Wildlife Research, 39: 183-191.

        Carlson J.C., Engeman R.M., Hyatt D.R., Gilliland R.L., Deliberto T.J., Clark L., Bodenchuk, M.J., Linz G.M. 2011. Efficacy of European starling control to reduce Salmonella enterica contamination in a concentrated animal feeding operation in the Texas panhandle. BMC Veterinary Research, 7: 9. 

        Chipper Woods Bird Observatory. 2004. European Starling: Sturnus vulgaris banded 12 December 1998. http://www.wbu.com/chipperwoods/photos/estarling.htm

        Chow, J. 2000. "Sturnus vulgaris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sturnus_vulgaris.html

        Clergeau P., 1986. L’étourneau sansonnet. Payot Lausanne ed., Lausanne.

        CONABIO. 2008. Sistema de información sobre especies invasoras en México. Especies invasoras - Aves. Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad. Fecha de acceso. http://www.conabio.gob.mx/invasoras/index.php/Especies_invasoras_-_Aves

        Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (WA), 2007. Starling updates http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/content/pw/vp/bird/starlings.htm

        eNature.com, 2007. European Starling: Sturnus vulgaris. http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/detail.asp?allSpecies=y&searchText=starling&curGroupID=1&lgfromWhere=&curPageNum=2

        Feare C.J., 1984. The starling. Oxford University Press. Oxford

        Georgia Wildlife Web. 2000. Perching Birds: European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris. Accessed August 11, 2004.

        Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC), 2003. Sturnus vulgaris (Linnaeus). http://nis.gsmfc.org/nis_factsheet.php?toc_id=212

        James, Francis C. 1997, Nonindigenous Birds. Pages 139-156 in Daniel Simberloff, Don C. Schmitz, Tom C. Brown, editors. Strangers in Paradise Impact and Management of Nonindigenous Species in Florida. Island Press, Washington D.C. 360 pp.

        Kern, William J. 2004. European Starling.

        Koenig, Walter D. August 2003. European Starlings and Their Effect on Native Cavity-Nesting Birds. Conservation Biology17(4) 1134-

        Komdeur, Jan, P. Wiersma, M. Magrath. 2002.  Paternal Care and male mate-attraction effort in the European starling is adjusted to clutch size. Proceedings: Biological Sciences 269(1497): 1253-1261.

        Kauffman M.D., LeJeune J. 2011. European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) challenged with Escherichia coli O157 can carry and transmit the human pathogen to cattle. Letters in Applied Microbiology, 53: 596-601. 

        Long, J. L. (1981). Introduced Birds of the World. (Reed: Sydney.)

        Linz G.M., Homan H.J., Gaukler S.M., Penry L.B, Bleier W.J. 2007. European starlings: a review of an invasive species with far-reaching impacts. Managing Vertebrate Invasive Species: Proceedings of an International Symposium. USDA/APHIS/WS, National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, CO.

        Mack, R. N and W. M. Lonsdale., 2002. Eradicating invasive plants: Hard-won lessons for islands. In Turning the tide: the eradication of invasive species: 311-318. Veitch, C.R. and Clout, M.N.(eds). IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group. IUCN. Gland. Switzerland and Cambridge. UK.

        Murray, C. and C. Pinkham. 2002. Towards a Decision Support Tool to Address Invasive Species in Garry Oak & Associated Ecosystems in BC. Prepared by ESSA Technologies Ltd., Victoria, B.C. for the GOERT Invasive Species Steering Committee, Victoria, 96 pp. http://www.goert.ca/documents/GOEDSTreport.pdf

        Nephew, Benjamin C., L. Romero. 2003. Behavioral, physiological, and endocrine responses of starlings to acute increases in density. Hormones and Behavior 44(3): 222-232

        Olsson, Ola, Mans Bruun, and Henrik G. Smith. June 2002. Starling Foraging Success In Relation to Agricultural Land Use. Ecography 25 (3) 363-

        The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT)., 2003. Annotated Bibliographies on the Ecology and Management of Sturnus vulgaris

        The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT)., 2003. Field manual of Sturnus vulgaris

        Timmins, S. M. and H. Braithwaite, 2002. Early detection of invasive weeds on islands. In Turning the tide: the eradication of invasive species: 311-318. Veitch, C.R. and Clout, M.N.(eds). IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group. IUCN. Gland. Switzerland and Cambridge. UK.

        Tracey, P.J.,Woods, R., Roshier, D., West, P., Saunders, G. The role of wild birds in the transmission of avian influenza for Australia: an ecological perspective. Emu, 2004, 104, 109-124

        Varnham, K. 2006. Non-native species in UK Overseas Territories: a review. JNCC Report 372. Peterborough: United Kingdom. http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-3660

        Weber, W. J. (1979). Health hazards from pigeons, starlings and English sparrows. (Thomson Publications: California.)

        WWF-Australia, Undated. Starling factsheet http://wwf.org.au/publications/starling-factsheet/

        Contributors

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          Reviewed by: John Tracey, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange New South Wales, Australia
          Principal sources:
            Compiled by: Brandon Gehrke supervised by Dr. Deborah Rudnick University of Washington, Tacoma & IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)Updates with support from the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP) project XOT603, a joint project with the Cayman Islands Government - Department of Environment
            Last Modified: Monday, October 04, 2010

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