Starlings (European Starlings)
Latin Name: Sturnus Vulgaris
An aggressive, flocking and invasive species, Starlings are prone to gather in the thousands and evict native bird populations from their territories. In 1890 Eugene Schieffelin, then president of the American Acclimatization Society, released 60 common starlings into New York’s Central Park. Their North American numbers have since swelled to 150 million, occupying an area extending from southern Canada and Alaska to Central America. Toronto currently hosts about 11 000 starlings, in the winter about half of the Canadian population migrates to the Golden Horseshoe Area, about 255 000 birds. Large scale flocking overwhelms the city not only visually, but also does structural damage to buildings (uric acid in fecal matter), clogs drains and poses a potential health risk for residences. However, the insectivorous birds also feed on harmful insect pests like Japanese cockroaches, weevils, grasshoppers and scarab beetles and males have been known to give gifts of lavender to potential mates.
Starlings are muscular birds about 8” long with glossy black plumage (speckled with white in the winter). Their legs are pink, and their bills are black in winter and yellow in summer. Young birds have browner plumage than the adults.
Common starlings build nests in natural or artificial cavities, eventually laying four or five glossy, pale blue eggs. Nestlings hatch after about a two week incubation period and remain in the nest for about another three weeks and are fed continuously by both parents. Starlings make up to two breeding attempts a year during the spring and summer months. After mating, the female typically lays eggs on a daily basis over a period of several days. Hatchlings moult and gain their basic plumage in their first two months, acquiring their adult plumage the following year. Although adults work to keep their nests relatively clean, since they consistently reoccupied, they often become foul smelling harbourages of a range of ectoparasites that can invade structures occupied by humans. When fledglings leave the nest, they gather in small family groups that eventually merge to form large flocks that can do considerable damage to property and crops, in addition to agitating noise pollution.
Mostly insectivorous, but opportunistically omnivorous, common Starlings feed on both insects and small invertebrates including earwigs, beetles, bees, dragonflies, ants, spiders, small amphibians and lizards, as well as fruits, grains, seeds and food waste. Three types of foraging behaviour are observed in the common Starling:
1) Probing: The bird plunges its beak into the ground repeatedly and at random until it unearths an insect or insect nest. Probing is often accompanied by ‘bill gaping’ wherein the bird enlarges a hole in the soil by opening its beak. Starlings have been observed to disturb garbage bags and consume human waste using this technique.
2) Hawking: The capture of flying insects directly from the air.
3) Lunging: Striking forward to catch a moving invertebrate on the ground.
Most species of hawk, owl and falcon are known to predate Starlings in North America. Urban-living peregrine falcons and merlins are the most consistent North American predators of the Starling.
Starlings in North America host a broad range of parasites. A survey of three hundred common starlings from six US states found that all had at least one type of parasite; 99% had external fleas, mites or ticks, and 95% carried internal parasites, mostly various types of worm.
Starling pest management and population control demands an integrated approach to pest management involving physical modifications to the property: The removal of a food source, the use of netting, wire and spikes to trap and remove starlings from roosting sites or to render roosting sites inaccessible. Scare tactics can include the implementation of predatory bird sounds and scarecrows and the use of actual predators, i.e., peregrine falcons. Nests must be removed and the structure treated for fleas, mites and lice that will likely migrate into your home in search for a new host body food source. Although there isn’t a bylaw in Toronto that prevents a person from feeding wild or domesticated birds or animals, Toronto Municipal Code 629 places onus on the tenant to keep their balcony clean of potentially harmful bird droppings. Avicides are mostly banned from use due to their non-selective nature and to avoid the risk of harming a predator population.