Starlings - sometimes known as the European starling - are a native to most of temperate Europe and western Asia.Smaller than blackbirds - and with a short tail, pointed head, and triangular wings - starlings look black at a distance, but when seen closer they are noticeably glossy, with a sheen of purples and greens.

Their flight is fast and direct and they walk and run confidently on the ground. Noisy and gregarious, starlings spend a lot of the year in flocks. It is still one of the commonest of British garden birds, but its decline elsewhere in Northern Europe makes it a Red List species.

Be that as it may, the starling is among the most familiar of birds in temperate regions.

Starling identification

Starling facts
The plumage is shiny black, glossed purple or green, and spangled with white - particularly strongly in winter.

Adult male European Starlings are less spotted underneath than adult females.

The throat feathers are long and loose, and used as a signal in display. Juveniles are grey-brown, and by their first winter resemble adults though often retain some brown juvenile feathering - especially on the head in the early part of the winter.

The legs are stout, pinkish-red. The bill is narrow conical with a sharp tip. In summer, it is yellow in females, and yellow with a blue-grey base in males. During the winter and in juveniles, it is black in both sexes.

Moulting occurs in late summer after the breeding season is finished. The fresh feathers are prominently tipped white (breast feathers) or buff (wing and back feathers). The reduction in the spotting during the breeding season is caused by the white feather tips largely wearing off.

What do starlings eat?

What do starlings eat?
The European Starling is insectivorous, and typically consumes caterpillars, moths, and cicadas, as well as spiders. While the consumption of invertebrates is necessary for successful breeding, starlings are omnivorous and will also eat grains, seeds, fruits, nectars. Even 'edible' household rubbish if the opportunity arises.

There are several methods by which they forage for their food, but for the most part they forage from or near the ground, taking insects from or beneath the surface of the soil.

Generally, starlings prefer foraging amongst short-cropped grasses and are often found between and on top of grazing animals out to pasture. Large flocks forage together, in a practice called “roller-feeding”: where the birds at the back of the flock continually fly to the front of the flock as they forage so that every bird has a turn to lead .

starling murmuration
The larger the flock, the nearer individuals are to one another while foraging. Flocks often forage in one place for some time, and return to previous successfully foraged sites.

There are four types of foraging observed in the European Starling:

Probing: The bird plunges its beak into the ground randomly and repetitively until an insect has been found. Probing is often accompanied by bill gaping where the bird opens its beak while probing to enlarge a dirt hole or to separate a lump of grass. This instinctual behaviour has been observed in starlings eating garbage from plastic garbage bags—the bill gaping results in the opening of holes in the garbage bags that allow for extrication of consumables.

Sallying: When the starling grabs an invertebrate directly from the air, a particularly successful behaviour among this species.

Lunging: A less common technique where the starling lunges forward to catch a moving target or invertebrate on the surface floor.

Gleaning: When the bird pulls backwards to extricate an earthworm from the soil. Among European Starling, sallying and probing are the most common foraging behaviours.

Starling reproduction

Baby starlings
The breeding season begins in early spring and summer. Following copulation, female European Starlings will lay an egg on a daily basis over a period of several days.

If an egg is lost during this time period, she will lay another egg to replace it. The eggs (4-5) are small elliptical blue - occasionally white - eggs that commonly have a glossy appearance to them.

Incubation lasts 13 days, although the last egg laid may take 24 hours longer than the first to hatch. Both parents share the responsibility of sitting on top of the eggs. However, the female spends more time incubating the eggs than the male, and is the only parent to do so at night, while the male returns to the communal roost.

The young are born blind and naked, and develop light fluffy down within 7 days of hatching, and sight within 9 days. The young remain in the nest for 3 weeks, where they are fed continuously by both their parents.

Pairs can raise up to three broods per breeding season, frequently reusing and relining the same nest. Within two months, most juveniles have molted and gained their first basic plumage. Juveniles acquire their adult plumage the following year.

Starling conservation

Starling facts
Overall, the European Starling is listed by the IUCN as being a species of least concern. However, it has been adversely affected in northern Europe by intensive agriculture, and in several countries, it has been red-listed due to declines of more than 50%.

In the United Kingdom, it declined by more than 80% between 1966 and 2004, although populations in some areas such as Northern Ireland are stable or even increasing. Those in other areas - mainly in England - have declined even more sharply.

The overall decline has been attributed to a loss of food-rich permanent pasture, leading to the low survival rates of young birds.

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