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Common Starling

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Is the Common Starling right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: European Starling

Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris

The basics:
Trained from an early age, the Common or European Starling can become a talented mimic who can learn to speak many human phrases and whistle recognizable tunes. However, the reality is that this species isn't a particularly popular pet, perhaps because it's a softbill that presents significant challenges to aviculturists. Most people who can provide the proper space and diet for a starling will opt for one of the more exotic talking mynahs. Also, it's worth keeping in mind that this widespread bird is considered an invasive species in some areas. Many of us who have kept a Starling ended up with the bird because wildlife rehabilitators refused a hurt bird under a mandate that requires them to reserve public resources for native bird rescue. In other words, you may not be able to easily locate a pet Starling even though you may see the wild birds all around you every day. But, if you obtain a rescue, there are steps you can take to give your new pet a good home and a satisfying life.

Wild Common Starlings are one of the world's most successful bird species. Originally from Eurasia and North Africa, this species has been introduced to every continent except Antarctica and to a great many islands as well. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there are 200 million European Starlings in North America-- all of them believed to be descended from a single flock of less than 100 birds released in Central Park, New York in 1890 by a group who wanted to bring all of the birds of Shakespeare to the United States.

Appearance:
While the Common Starling is widely regarded as a plain dark bird that no one much notices, the adult birds can actually be eye-catching in the right light. The fresh feathers have white tips, which give the bird a spotted look. As the feather wears, it becomes darker over time. In good light, you can see an iridescent or rainbow flash in the plumage.

Weight:
60 - 100 grams (2 - 3.5 oz.)

Average Size:
20 centimeters (8 in.)

Lifespan:
10 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Common Starling needs to be exposed to the spoken language and/or musical notes it will learn as a young bird, or it will probably never be able to learn to mimic. Start the bird early, and work with it frequently. Be aware that they do mimic everything. I had a vinyl record of a canary training tape, and my Starling learned the canary song perfectly-- complete with all the snaps, crackles, and pops found on well-worn recordings in that medium.

They're friendly and engaging birds, and without much effort they can be trained to come to the hand for treats like mealworms or other goodies.

Housing:
Like most softbills, the European Starling has loose, squirtable droppings that create a real mess if you don't set up an easy-to-clean flight or aviary. They do seem to spend a good amount of time foraging in or near the ground, and they also need to be able to exercise by flying and by hopping from perch to perch to prevent foot problems. They may be a common bird, but their housing needs are quite high maintenance.

Diet:
Iron storage disease doesn't seem to be as big an issue with Common Starlings as it is with some of the heavily frugivorous softbill birds, but you can still expect to spend a lot of money and time providing a somewhat specialized diet. As true omnivores, they benefit from a special softbill pellet supplemented with treat items like chopped fruit, corn, mealworms, and live crickets.

Written by Elaine Radford

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