learn about the european starling, a sociable bird species known for its striking plumage and intelligent social behaviors. discover its habitat, diet, and unique characteristics.

European Starling, a Social Bird Species

GardenBy May 31, 2024

The European Starling, also known as the Sturnus vulgaris, is a widely distributed bird species found in both rural and urban areas. Recognized by its distinctive call, the starling is known for its gregarious nature and group behavior. While often considered a nuisance due to its habit of consuming fruit crops, this small bird plays a valuable role in controlling pests in gardens and agricultural fields. In this article, we will explore the characteristics and behaviors of the European Starling, highlighting its social nature and the benefits it brings to its environment.


The European Starling is often mistaken for the Blackbird (Merle noir in French), but it can be distinguished by its shorter tail, which is almost the same length as its wings. It measures approximately 21 cm in length and has a wingspan of 31-40 cm, weighing between 60 g and 96 g. Its plumage is glossy black, with light tips on its wings and base of its tail, which fade away during the winter months. In the breeding season, the male starling develops a yellow beak and ornamental feathers on its throat, showcasing them during courtship displays.
The juvenile starling has a different appearance, with a light brown-gray plumage and black beak with a yellow base. Its legs are either red or brown.

Social Behavior

The European Starling is known for its gregarious nature and group living. These birds form communal roosts at night for protection against predators, such as the sparrowhawk. Even during the breeding season, most starling couples will leave their nests and join communal roosts for added safety. Family groups also gather and live in colonies, practicing all their activities communally.
The starling’s flight is characterized by its speed and agility, often including gliding and direct flight interrupted by short glides. When flying in groups, which can number in the thousands, they create spectacular aerial displays, resembling moving clouds.
Additionally, starlings are highly vocal birds, with a diverse repertoire of songs and calls. Their imitative abilities allow them to mimic other bird species, including various types of passerines, as well as larger birds like buzzards and coots.

Habitat and Range

The European Starling has a broad breeding range, spanning from the Atlantic coast and the British Isles to Lake Baikal in northern Mongolia. It is absent only in the southern regions of Spain, where it is replaced by the Spotless Starling. Some individuals from the northernmost regions migrate to more temperate zones during winter, while others remain in their breeding areas year-round.
This highly adaptable bird can thrive in various habitats, as long as they provide open spaces for foraging and concealed areas for nesting. Starlings commonly inhabit meadows, natural and artificial lawns, gardens, orchards, and even nesting cavities in trees, house roofs, and urban lamp posts. They form night roosts in urban parks, among trees, or along water bodies.


The European Starling is an omnivorous species, primarily feeding on insects and other invertebrates found on the ground. Throughout the year, insects and their larvae constitute the main part of their diet. They also consume earthworms and small mollusks, using their beaks to probe the surface or shallow soil for these prey. During summer and autumn, starlings supplement their diet with fruits, often climbing trees and shrubs to reach them. They have a particular fondness for cherries, much to the dismay of gardeners. Starlings may also scavenge for food at garbage dumps, agricultural sites, and other places with readily available human food waste.


During the breeding season, male starlings engage in elaborate courtship displays to attract mates. From prominent perches, they sing and display ornamental feathers on their throat, wings, and body. Starlings nest in cavities, sometimes stealing nests from other bird species or occupying abandoned woodpecker holes. They commonly nest under house eaves, within lamp posts, or behind warm light bulbs.
The nest is constructed using various materials, with the cup lined with dry grass, plant fibers, moss, feathers, hair, or paper to provide a soft and comfortable base. The female lays four to six eggs with intense blue coloring between late March and early April. She incubates the eggs alone or with minimal assistance for about 15 days. If the clutch is destroyed, the pair may attempt a second breeding attempt, usually producing fewer and less resilient eggs.
The chicks fledge at around three weeks of age, but their parents continue to provide them with food for several more days. Even after gaining independence, young starlings remain with their families due to their strong social instinct.

The European Starling, a Gardener’s Ally

European Starlings are often viewed as garden pests, particularly when they have easy access to orchards or vineyards. However, considering their varied diet, they can play a beneficial role in controlling garden pests. Their insectivorous diet helps to reduce populations of harmful insects and mollusks that attack vegetable gardens and flowers. By sharing a portion of their fruit harvest with these birds, gardeners can harness their pest control services, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship.
While European Starlings are abundant and not considered a threatened species, their proximity to human settlements and large numbers can be bothersome due to their noise and droppings. Proper protection of fruit crops allows for harmonious coexistence with these valuable allies.
In conclusion, the European Starling is a fascinating bird species known for its social behavior and adaptability. Despite their reputation as garden pests, they provide valuable pest control services to gardeners. Understanding their behavior and ecological role can help foster a better appreciation for these unique birds.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.