Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds in the family Sturnidae. The name "Sturnidae" comes from the Latin word for starling, sturnus. Many Asian species, particularly the larger ones, are called mynas, and many African species are known as glossy starlings because of their iridescent plumage. Starlings are native to Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as northern Australia and the islands of the tropical Pacific. Several European and Asian species have been introduced to these areas as well as North America, Hawaii and New Zealand, where they generally compete for habitats with native birds and are considered to be invasive species. The starling species familiar to most people in Europe and North America is the common starling, and throughout much of Asia and the Pacific, the common myna is indeed common.
Starlings have strong feet, their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat is fairly open country, and they eat insects and fruit. Several species live around human habitation and are effectively omnivores. Many species search for prey such as grubs by "open-bill probing", that is, forcefully opening the bill after inserting it into a crevice, thus expanding the hole and exposing the prey; this behaviour is referred to by the German verb zirkeln (pronounced ).
Plumage of many species is typically dark with a metallic sheen. Most species nest in holes and lay blue or white eggs.
Starlings have diverse and complex vocalizations and have been known to embed sounds from their surroundings into their own calls, including car alarms and human speech patterns. The birds can recognize particular individuals by their calls and are the subject of research into the evolution of human language.
Starlings inhabit a wide range of habitats from the Arctic Circle to the Equator. In fact, the only habitat they do not typically occupy is the driest sandy deserts. The family is naturally absent from the Americas and from large parts of Australia but is present over the majority of Europe, Africa, and Asia. The genus Aplonis has also spread widely across the islands of the Pacific reaching Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia (in addition one species in the genus Mino has reached the Solomon Islands). It is also a species of this genus that is the only starling found in northern Australia.
Asian species are most common in evergreen forests; 39 species found in Asia are predominantly forest birds as opposed to 24 found in more open or human modified environments. In contrast to this, African species are more likely to be found in open woodlands and savannah; 33 species are open area specialists compared to 13 true forest species. The high diversity of species found in Asia and Africa is not matched by Europe, which has one widespread (and very common) species and two more restricted species. The European starling is both highly widespread and extremely catholic in its habitat, occupying most types of open habitat. Like many other starling species, it has also adapted readily to human-modified habitat, including farmland, orchards, plantations, and urban areas.
Some species of starling are migratory, either entirely, like the Shelley's starling, which breeds in Ethiopia and Somaliland and migrates to Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia, or, like the white-shouldered starling, which is migratory in part of its range but is resident in others.
The European starling was purposefully introduced to North America in the 1870s through the 1890s by multiple acclimatisation societies, organizations dedicated to introducing European flora and fauna into North America for cultural and economic reasons. A persistent story alleges that Eugene Schieffelin, chairman of the American Acclimatization Society, decided all birds mentioned by William Shakespeare should be in North America, leading to the introduction of the starling to the U.S.; however, this claim is more fiction than fact. While Schieffelin and other members of the society did release starlings in Central Park in 1890, the birds had already been in the U.S. since at least the mid-1870s, and Schieffelin was not inspired to do so by Shakespeare's works.