Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

It’s almost time to spot one of the noisiest garden birds around; the starling!

Renowned as one of the UK’s most gregarious birds, it has a strong reputation for its dazzling displays of avian behaviour, the murmuration. Starlings- part of the Sturnidae family- spend a lot of the year in flocks and the number of starlings in a roost can swell to around 100,000 in some places so the acrobatic aerial displays of swooping and diving are simply beautiful to watch. If you want know why starlings flock in these murmurations, click here.

Despite being one of the most common garden birds, there has been a decline in numbers and in the UK alone there are approximately 1 million breeding pairs. As it is globally threatened, it is classed as a red listed, endangered species but the cause of this is unknown.

General characteristics

Although starling’s behaviour is breathtaking to witness, their appearance is somewhat less charismatic. The scruffy looking birds are chunky and about the size of a Thrush; with pink legs, short tails and long slender beaks.

At a distance they look black but in winter they are brown, heavily covered in white speckles. This spotting wears away as the feathers become worn towards spring. The female starling looks less glossy and oily than its male counterpart but a key difference to tell the sexes apart is by the colour of their bills; blue for the males and pink for the females.

Juveniles look completely different with a brown plumage, and the normal lifespan of a starling is around 15 years.

Where to see one

Starling murmuration takes place between October and November and if you want to see one, the best time is early evening or dusk.

To view a murmuration in action, click here to find one near you.

What do they eat

Starlings just about eat anything but they enjoy feeding on worms, snails, insects, fruit and seed mixes.

They forage for food by probing in the soil and pushing rocks and soil out of the way. As juveniles they can be seen chasing after the parent bird on the ground, following at its ‘heels’ whilst foraging.

The birds have a bad reputation though as they are known to be very aggressive, so don’t be surprised to see flocks fighting over food. They tend to descend on bird tables and feeders in large numbers and devour everything in sight in a matter of minutes; so you’ll only have a small window of time to watch them before they clean out the feeding station.

It’s worth noting however this isn’t because they’re greedy but because they evolved to feed quickly in flocks.

Taxonomy

Its name- Sturnus vulgaris- derives from a Swedish botanist/zoologist called Linnaeus; who is otherwise known by the nickname ‘father of modern taxonomy’.

The acclaimed scientist, many of which his writings were in Latin, first described Sturnus vulgaris in his book ‘Systema Naturea’ in 1758.

  • ‘Sturnus’ is Latin for ‘starling’
  • ‘Vulgaris’ means ‘common’

Therefore it goes without saying that the popular English names include Common Starling or European Starling.

What is the Starling’s nesting behaviour

As aforementioned, the species are repute for being pugnacious and this is apparent in nesting too, driving native birds out of their territories.

It is the male that builds the nest from grass and this is usually in a hole in the wall, tree or building. So you can expect to see them nesting in places like parks and gardens and they’ve taken to nest boxes too.

It is then the females that line it with feathers, wool and moss. Interestingly, once the nest has been built the male will decorate it with leaves and petals.

Starlings usually breed during April and June and a typical clutch contains between 4-7 pale blue-green eggs. Males often have several families but only the female brood the chicks.

Females can produce 1-2 broods a year and then it is both parents’ responsibility to feed their young. It is not uncommon though for females to lay their eggs in another starling’s nest!

Please do visit our Interactive Starling Murmuration map this winter to find a murmuration near you and if you’re lucky enough to see one, please share the video with us and we’ll put your sighting on the map for everyone to enjoy.

Try the interactive Starling

Attract Starlings with the following food

Dried Mealworm

Dried mealworms are the perfect nutritional food for your garden birds. Ideal for attracting species such as Blue tits, Starlings and Blackbirds, dried mealworms can be soaked in water over night for an extra juicy treat for your birds.

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Premium Suet Balls

Our premium suet balls each contain over 90g of high grade, quality beef suet, blended with wheat, peanuts and dried mealworms. We guarantee your garden birds will love this energy-rich recipe.

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Classic suet balls

Suet is absolutely essential for birds, providing instant energy which is just what they need. Classic Suet Balls are just the job when it comes to bird feeding and are suitable for all year round use.

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Suet Pellets with Mealworm and Raisins

This mix combines some of the best high energy, protein rich ingredients available into one superfood”for birds. Insect treat pellets, dried mealworms and wild berry flavour (blueberry and redcurrant) make this the ultimate softbill mix.

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