European starling is a native to Europe and was introduced to North America in the 1890s by William Shakespeare enthusiasts. Since the introduction of 100 individuals in Central Park, New York; starlings colonized the majority of North America, ranging from Alaska to Mexico; with an estimated population of over 200 million.
European starlings are small bodied song bird, weighing 2.1-3.4 ounces as a full grown adult. Starlings are also vocal mimics, with individuals learning up to 20 different species songs.
Above: Adult breeding European Starling.
Starlings are typically associated being around human activities, and are often found in urban settings that provide an ample supply of forage, roosting and nesting habitats. Starlings are a cavity nesting species, utilizing a broad array of habitats such as trees, bird houses and buildings. Starlings can be aggressive when selecting nesting locations and can out-compete native species.
European starlings are omnivores, feeding on invertebrates, berries and seeds. However, they often forage on
garbage, livestock feed and agricultural wastes.
European starlings are identified by their iridescent purple-black glossy color in the summer and additional white spots during winter months. Starlings have a long narrow beak used for foraging in grass and soil. Their beak is bright yellow during summer months and turns more drab black during winter.
Furthermore, they commonly identified by their flocking behavior. Throughout the year, starlings congregate in large flocks, which can reach hundreds of thousands of individuals in size. The flocking tendency of starlings is a defensive behavior, in attempt to distract predators from focusing on a single individual. They are often seen roosting on high wires, buildings, and trees.
European starlings are exempt from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and are thus not federally protected. Any number of nests, eggs, young and/or adults may be removed or destroyed throughout the year without a permit.
Populations of starlings have greatly increased throughout the United States since their introduction in 1890.
Above: Large flocks of European starlings.
As long as refuge and food is available for these birds, their population is likely to continuing increasing until they reach their carrying capacity for any one habitat, at which point they would be expected to either drive native birds out or exploit a new habitat. They have acclimated to rapid urbanization and are capable of utilizing most habitats within the United States.
NUISANCE EUROPEAN STARLINGS
Due to their rapid expansion, roosting and feeding behavior, and large flocks, European starlings present negative interactions with humans and furthermore, present issues with aviation, disease spread, agricultural/private land and home damage.
European starlings are capable of causing considerable damage to agricultural fields and private property. Pimental et al. (2000) estimated that starlings cause over $800 million dollars in damage to agricultural crops each year in the United States. Starlings consume up to 1 ounce of food each day. When associated with large flocks, they can consume a considerable amount of livestock feed and spoil larger amounts with their fecal matter.
At roosting locations, starling flocks can damage tree branches from weight stress. Additionally their droppings are phytotoxic, which can kill mature trees when concentrated,
Furthermore, orchards and fruit crops can be picked clean by a relatively small flock of starlings. In order to minimize these effects, proper mitigation and management techniques/plans must be utilized.
EUROPEAN STARLING AT AIRPORTS
Due to their large flocking behavior, European starlings are significant hazard to aviation. European starlings are responsible for the most deaths resulting from wildlife and airplane collisions nationwide. They are listed at the 20th most hazardous species to aviation (FAA 2007)
Roosting locations at airports can deposit large quantities of fecal matter. These locations are a source of zoonotic diseases that can adversely affect human health.
Above: Image of a plane taking off from an airport in Dusseldorf;......................... the plane sucked in roughly 200 starlings.
There are many management strategies available to reduce the damage or danger caused by the presence of European starlings. These strategies fall into two categories: lethal and non-lethal control. It is important to note that there is no easy or quick method to remove European starlings. Utilizing both non-lethal and lethal control is often needed for long-term management strategies.
Non-lethal control can be an effective way to exclude European starlings from a location. Non-lethal methods aim to make habitats unappealing through the use of exclusion and frightening techniques.
Use of frightening devices, including pyrotechnics, effigies, propane cannons and avian distress calls can reduce starling presence in a location. However, when not used in conjunction with lethal control techniques, starlings can become accustomed to these devices and render them ineffective at deterring starlings.
Above: European starlings roosting on a high-wire.
Altering the preferred habitat of European starlings can be an effective and long-lasting means of mitigation. An effective way to prevent starlings from roosting on trees and damaging crops is to cover areas with netting.
Starlings that are gaining access inside buildings can be deterred by closing up entrance holes. Installation of exclusion netting in buildings no doors/doors open for long periods of time.
Installation of anti-perching devices can prevent starlings from perching on buildings, ledges and wires.
Above: Birdspikes can be placed on roosting areas to deter European starlings.
Lethal control techniques that can be utilized to control and deter starlings include: shooting, trapping and egg/nest removal. Shooting starlings is not an effective way to control starling populations; however, it can be used to reinforce non-lethal harassment techniques.
There are many styles of starling traps on the market. Trapping starlings can be an effective method to reduce population sizes in a given area, but if not used in conjunction with habitat management and exclusion techniques, additional starlings may migrate into the area due to the open niche.
European starling nest and egg removal is a direct way to control populations of starlings. This method is best used in conjunction with habitat modification. For example after installing exclusion devices to a building a final step would be to removal all nests that have been built inside the building.
Exclusion and removal of European starlings from agricultural, suburban and airport settings can be a challenging task. Loomacres specializes in using a combination of non-lethal and lethal that achieve optimal results in a variety of habitat settings.
By: Shawn Ferdinand, Loomacres Wildlife Management © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved
Federal Aviation Administration. 2007. Wildlife Attractants At or Near Airports. Advisory Circular 150/5200 33B.
Pimental, D., L. Lach, R. Zuniga, and D. Morrison. 2000. Environmental and economic costs of non-indigenous species in the United States. Bioscience 53:53-65.