Common Starling

Common Starling

European starling, Starling

Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Sturnus vulgaris
Population size
150-310 mln
Life Span
2-23 yrs
TOP SPEED
77 km/h
WEIGHT
58-101 g
LENGTH
19-23 cm
WINGSPAN
31-44 cm

The Сommon starling, also known as the European starling in the United States or simply the starling in the British Isles, is a medium-sized noisy bird popular in urban and rural areas. It has glossy black plumage with a metallic sheen, which is speckled with white at some times of the year. The legs are pink and the bill is black in winter and yellow in summer. Juveniles are grey-brown and by their first winter resemble adults though often retaining some brown juvenile feathering, especially on the head. They can usually be sexed by the color of the irises, rich brown in males, mouse-brown or grey in females.

Distribution

Common starlings are native to Eurasia and are found throughout Europe, northern Africa (from Morocco to Egypt), India (mainly in the north but regularly extending further south and extending into the Maldives) Nepal, the Middle East including Syria, Iran, and Iraq and north-western China. Common starlings in the south and west of Europe are mainly resident, although other populations migrate from regions where the winter is harsh. Most birds from northern Europe, Russia, and Ukraine migrate south westwards or south eastwards. In the autumn, when immigrants are arriving from eastern Europe, many of Britain's common starlings are setting off for Iberia and North Africa. Common starlings prefer urban or suburban areas, reedbeds, grassy areas such as farmland, grazing pastures, playing fields, golf courses, and airfields where short grass makes foraging easy. They occasionally inhabit open forests and woodlands and are sometimes found in shrubby areas. These birds are also found in coastal areas, where they nest and roost on cliffs and forage amongst the seaweed.

Common Starling habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

Common starlings are highly gregarious birds, especially in autumn and winter when huge, noisy flocks may form near roosts. These birds move by walking or running, rather than hopping. Their flight is quite strong and direct; their triangular-shaped wings beat very rapidly, and periodically the birds glide for a short way without losing much height before resuming powered flight. When in a flock, starlings take off almost simultaneously, wheel and turn in unison, form a compact mass or trail off into a wispy stream, bunch up again, and land in a coordinated fashion. Common starlings feed by day using three types of foraging behavior. "Probing" involves the bird plunging its beak into the ground randomly and repetitively until an insect has been found. "Hawking" is the capture of flying insects directly from the air, and "lunging" is the less common technique of striking forward to catch a moving invertebrate on the ground. Earthworms are caught by pulling from the soil. Common starlings communicate with help of various calls that include a flock call, threat call, attack call, snarl call, and copulation call. The alarm call is a harsh scream, and while foraging together Common starlings squabble incessantly. They chatter while roosting and bathing, making a great deal of noise that can cause irritation to people living nearby. Their song consists of a wide variety of both melodic and mechanical-sounding noises as part of a ritual succession of sounds. The songsters are more commonly male although females also sing on occasion.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Common starlings are omnivores. Their food range includes spiders, crane flies, moths, mayflies, dragonflies, damsel flies, grasshoppers, earwigs, lacewings, caddisflies, flies, beetles, sawflies, bees, wasps and ants. These birds will also feed on earthworms, snails, small amphibians, lizards, grains, seeds, fruits, nectar, and food waste if the opportunity arises.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
spring, summer
INCUBATION PERIOD
13 days
INDEPENDENT AGE
4-5 weeks
BABY NAME
chick
BABY CARRYING
4-5 eggs

Common starlings are both monogamous and polygynous; although broods are generally brought up by one male and one female, occasionally the pair may have an extra helper. Males may mate with a second female while the first is still on the nest. Breeding takes place during the spring and summer. Unpaired males find a suitable cavity and begin to build nests in order to attract single females, often decorating the nest with ornaments such as flowers and fresh green material. The males sing throughout the construction and even more so when a female approaches his nest. After the pair was formed, the male and female continue to build the nest. Nests may be in any type of hole, common locations include inside hollowed trees, buildings, tree stumps, and man-made nest-boxes. Nests are typically made out of straw, dry grass, and twigs with an inner lining made up of feathers, wool, and soft leaves. The female lays 4-5 eggs that are ovoid in shape and pale blue or occasionally white, and they commonly have a glossy appearance. Incubation lasts 13 days and both parents share the responsibility of brooding the eggs. The chicks are born blind and naked. They develop light fluffy down within 7 days of hatching and can see within 9 days. Nestlings remain in the nest for 3 weeks, where they are fed continuously by both parents. After leaving the nest fledglings continue to be fed by their parents for another 1 or 2 weeks. A pair can raise up to three broods per year, although two broods are typical. Within 2 months, most juveniles will have molted and gained their first basic plumage. They acquire their adult plumage the following year.

Population

Population threats

The overall decline in Common starling populations seems to be due to the low survival rate of young birds, which may be caused by changes in agricultural practices. The intensive farming methods used in northern Europe mean there is less pasture and meadow habitat available, and the supply of grassland invertebrates needed for the nestlings to thrive is correspondingly reduced.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the global population size of the Common starling is 150,000,000 mature individuals. The population in Europe consists of 28,800,000-52,400,000 pairs, equating to 57,700,000-105,000,000 mature individuals. According to the Wikipedia resource the global population of this species is estimated to be more than 310,000,000 individuals. Overall, currently, the Common starling is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Common starlings on migration can fly at 60-80 km/h (37-50 mph) and cover up to 1,000-1,500 km (620-930 mi).
  • When a flock of Common starlings is flying together, the synchronized movements of the birds' wings make a distinctive whooshing sound that can be heard hundreds of meters away.
  • Flocks of more than a million Common starlings may be observed just before sunset in spring in southwestern Jutland, Denmark over the seaward marshlands of Tønder and Esbjerg municipalities. They gather in March until northern Scandinavian birds leave for their breeding ranges by mid-April. Their swarm behavior creates complex shapes silhouetted against the sky, a phenomenon known locally as sort sol ("black sun").
  • Generally, Common starlings prefer foraging amongst short-cropped grasses and eat with grazing animals or perch on their backs, where they will also feed on the mammal's external parasites.
  • Common starlings have a great ability at mimicry. They are able to mimic many sounds including the sounds of other birds or even mechanical sounds which are then included in their songs.

References

1. Common Starling on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_starling
2. Common Starling on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22710886/137493608

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