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(Common) Starling

Both sexes: Black with green and violet iridescence.

The Starling has the reputation for being one of the noisiest and most gregarious garden birds.

The Starling's plumage is mainly blackish with buff edged wing feathers and reddish-brown legs.

In the winter it has white speckles above and below. The sexes are alike though the male has fewer speckles on the rump and wings. The bill is dark grey-brown during the winter.

Bill colour in different sexes
Bill colour in different sexes

The speckles disappear through the course of the winter and by the spring the plumage becomes predominantly iridescent with green and purple. The colour of the base of its quite long yellow beak is different in males and females - it is pink for girls and blue for boys.

Summer Plumage
Summer Plumage
Winter Plumage
Winter Plumage

Juvenile Starlings have grey-brown plumage with large white speckles on the underparts and light cream coloured throat, but moult completely in the autumn in to the spotty adult plumage. They have a dark greyish bill.

First winter Starlings look most peculiar and give rise to many queries about strange birds in people's gardens - they are typically grey-brown on the head and back but blackish with white spots below.

First Winter
First Winter

In flight, Starlings have pointed, triangular wings and fly fast and direct. When they come in to land they look a little like Harrier aircraft with slightly drooped triangular wings.

An increasingly common vagrant from Eastern Europe is the Rose-coloured Starling. In the summer, the adults have distinctive and unmistakable black and pink plumage - the breast, belly and back being pink. Many visitors, however, are juveniles and these can be easily overlooked as they look similar to juvenile Common Starlings, except that the bill is yellowish, legs are pale pink, and the plumage is a drab pale grey-brown with darker wings.

Scientific Name Sturnus vulgaris
Length 22 cm  (9")
Wing Span 37-42 cm  (15-17")
Weight 75-90 g  (3-3½ oz)
Breeding Pairs > 1000000
Present All Year
Status Red

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


Starlings are great at mimicry, with examples including machines, such as telephones and car alarms, and other birds such as curlews and Pied Wagtails. Consequently, it's difficult to know what their song is other than a medley of squeaks, clicks and whistles.

Male Starlings can be heard singing throughout the year except when they are moulting in July and August.


© Jean Roché,


Starlings seem to feed on just about anything: insects, worms, snails, berries, fruit, scraps, suet. However, they feed only invertebrates - not "junk" food - to their young.

Their beak is used to probe the ground and is powerful enough to be opened to part the ground and reach food that is buried, they can also swivel their eyes forward to look along the length of their bill to the area they are probing.

They are often found with Lapwings in wetland areas, where they feed on the food that the Lapwings have disturbed - this is called commensal feeding.


The male builds the nest from grass in a hole in a wall, tree or building, but the female lines it with feathers, wool and moss. The male may decorate the nest with leaves and petals in order to deter parasites and improve his chances of attracting a mate.

Nest Material
Nest Material

The eggs are pale blue, smooth and glossy, and about 30 mm by 21 mm. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, and both adults feed the young. The female will sometimes remove an egg from a neighbouring Starlings' nests and lay one of her own in its place so as to give her offspring a better chance of surviving.

Starlings will use medium-sized nest boxes with a hole about 45 mm diameter.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
mid- April 1-2 4-9 12-15 20-22


Juveniles disperse after becoming independent and roam woodlands and the countryside in large flocks. In the autumn, many birds from Scandinavia, Finland and Poland cross the North Sea to winter in Britain.

In the wintertime, both resident and immigrant birds form large roosts, gathering in buildings, trees or reed beds. The roosts are often several thousand birds' strong, but those that gather in reed beds, such as on the Somerset Levels, can comprise a few million birds. As the day draws to a close, the Starlings return to the roost and before settling down for the night the increasingly large flock darkens the skies as it swirls around like a swarm of insects, making this one of Nature's greatest spectacles.


Starling populations have declined seriously (by over 70%) in recent times and are on the Red List of birds of high conservation concern. There are several causes of this decline: changes in farming practices, changes in grassland management, loss of invertebrate food through the use of pesticides, fewer nesting sites in urban areas owing to household improvements and poorer survival rates among young birds.