A familiar bird that breeds in farmland, suburban areas and open woodlands. Seen from a distance, starlings look black with a short tail and pointed yellow bill, but when seen close-to, they are very glossy with a metallic sheen of purples and greens. In winter, the entire plumage of adults is densely covered with yellowish/white spots, (males more so than females) and the bill is dark.
Starlings are famous for their wintery aerial displays – massive flocks can be seen wheeling over towns and farmland. These impressive coordinated manoeuvres involving thousands of birds, are called murmurations and make for mesmerising viewing. Starlings are extremely social, they leave their roost in the morning to search for food, commonly breaking off into smaller groups. At sundown, the flocks return to the roost to sleep. When taking off, or in flight, Starlings often make a short buzzing ‘churr’, broken by short drawn-out ‘steeh’, on sight of a hawk.
Starlings forage in lawns, fields, and other open areas with short vegetation. They are primarily insectivores in their natural habitat, but will feed on a wide variety of items outside of their “natural” diet, including fruits and seeds. Starlings nest in cavaties such as in a building, woodpecker hole or a purpose-made nest box. Where there is a colony of starlings, the first clutch of eggs are often laid highly synchronously.
- Length: 19-23cm
- Wingspan 37-42cm
- Weight: 75-90g
- Average Lifespan: 5 years
Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.
The starling can be found throughout lowland Scotland where there is cultivation and pasture. It is generally absent in highlands above 400m and in areas dominated by grass or heather moorland. Highest densities are found along the East coast, Central lowlands and Dumfries and Galloway.
When to see
All year round.
- Juvenile starlings, particularly first winter juveniles, look like a different species of bird. They are dull brown/grey all over with a whitish chin and dark/black bill.
- Scotland holds 100% of the world population of the sub-species Sturnus vulgaris zetlandicus, the Shetland starling. This species is endemic to Scotland where it is widespread, often seen in large flocks and breeding on the smallest of islands. These resident species are joined by immigrant passing flocks of vulgaris in October-November, and again in mid-March-April and are biometrically very similar. It is the juvenile zetlandicus that tends to be darker than the vulgaris.
- Male starlings will sing for much of the year, only stopping for a few weeks during the post breeding-season moult. Not only are they great singers, they are also impressive mimics, able to imitate the calls or songs of other birds, and even mechanical sounds.