European Starling Identification

The European or common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) discussed in my previous post (04-21-2014)  is interesting not only for its vocalizations, but because it exhibits “wear moult”.

Starlings moult once a year – in the fall. From afar starlings look black. On closer observation, starlings are covered in white spots during the fall and winter following their moult. This is because their dark feathers are tipped in white. During the winter the white tips wear away and by spring the dark black/brown iridescent remains of their feathers cause the starlings to look glossy black with a purple and green sheen. This unusual alteration of appearance occurs without a second moult. The wings and tail feathers are brownish grey. The lighter wing coloration is especially obvious when starlings flap their wings while perched.

Another difference between starlings in the winter and during the breeding season is bill color. During the spring and summer the slender, long, pointed, adult starling beaks are yellow. The base of a male’s yellow bill shows slight blue coloration while that of a female has a tinge of pink. During the fall and winter non-breeding period, starlings’ bills are black. Their legs are pink or yellowish orange.

European starlings are resident throughout most of their range, although individuals at high altitudes and latitudes may move short distances in the winter.

Starlings are opportunistic and will eat anything,  but prefer insects and other invertebrates. Fruits, grains, nectar and even garbage round out the starling diet. They most often are found foraging on the ground in open, grassy areas.

With their short tails and wings, starlings were thought to resemble “stars” while in flight, thus their common name. No matter how I try, I cannot visualize a star while watching a starling on the wing.

As in the previous post, these male and female starling pictures were taken in our yard (Modoc County CA). In the fall I must take and post photographs of starlings with their white spots, unless the tree-cavity-filling project manages to discourage all the starlings. Thus far there is no paucity of starlings and we will most likely still have plenty to photograph in the fall.


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1 Response to European Starling Identification

  1. Pingback: European Starling Reproduction | The Nature Niche

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