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What is a Starling?

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  • Written By: A. Delgado
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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A starling is a type of passerine bird in the Sturnidae family. There are several species of starlings found throughout the world, but the European or common starling is the most widespread and numerous one. Starlings have black feathers with a glossy sheen in summer and brown feathers with white spots in winter. They live in areas populated by humans, where they gather in groups and make their loud calls. Starlings are generally considered pests due to their noisiness and their tendency to destroy crops.

Common starlings are found in Europe, North America and as far west as the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean. They were brought to the United States in 1890 and have spread rapidly throughout North America, currently numbering around 200 million. Other species of starlings include the white-headed starling, rosy starling, spotless starling and Asian pied starling.

A starling's appearance changes with the seasons. In summer, their black feathers have a shiny purplish-green tint to them, which fade to brown with white spots as the weather turns colder. Their legs are generally a reddish-brown and their beaks are a bright yellow. Starlings have a thick build with short tails and thin beaks. They reach an average length of 8.5 inches (about 21.5 cm) and range in weight from 2.5 to 3.5 ounces (about 70 to 100 grams).

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The habitats that starlings prefer are generally those close to humans, including suburbs and rural areas. They need niches or indentations in buildings or trees to build their nests and access to yards, farmlands and streets to forage for food. Competition with starlings for these resources has driven other bird species away in some areas.

Starlings travel in big groups consisting of other starlings, as well as other birds such as grackles. Staying in large groups provides them with extra protection from predators, such as falcons and cats. They are very social birds that spend much of their day vocalizing. Starlings have learned to mimic the sounds of other birds, animals and mechanical noises in their environment, which contributes to their overall loudness.

A starling's diet generally consists of insects, fruits, seeds and grains, although they also raid trash left outdoors. In rural areas, starlings have clashed with farmers due to their feeding habits, which often lead them to ruin crops.

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