By Ericha S. Nix, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
Starlings were introduced to the United States from Europe in the 1890s. They are now quite common and found throughout the nation. Starlings have adapted well to both rural and suburban areas in and around human settlements. They have prospered in these areas due to the abundance of foraging and nesting habitats. Starlings will nest in almost anything that resembles a cavity, such as a hole in a building or sign, a bird house, a hollow in a tree or a crack in rocks.
Starlings are attractive birds, stocky with short tails and pointy yellow bills during the summer months that become gray during the fall. From a distance they look very dark colored or even black; however, during the early winter months they are dark brown with white speckles and have a purplish-green iridescence or sheen.
You will definitely know when you have a flock of starlings outside your window as they are quite boisterous, annoyingly loud and travel in large groups. Flocks can range in size from a hundred birds to millions of birds in certain areas. These large flocks may also have blackbirds and grackles mixed with them. A large flock of starlings in flight looks like a black cloud moving about the sky. Once on the ground they begin probing, moving continuously, searching for and consuming grubs and insects. You may also see a large flock roosting in the tops of several trees in your yard or you could see them monopolizing your bird feeders, consuming everything in sight while excluding all other birds.
Starlings are considered pests because they nest in places you do not want them (attics, under eaves or other openings in buildings), can be very noisy, consume and or ruin fruit orchards, contaminate livestock feed and grain, take over nesting sites of native songbirds, and may transfer disease due to the accumulation of their droppings if roosting in extremely large flocks.
What can you do if you have nuisance starlings? Because the European starling is an introduced species and not native to the United States, you do not need a federal permit to control them. Non-native or exotic species control is an exemption under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Lethal control is legal; however, you do need to be familiar with local ordinances as some may prohibit the use of certain types of control measures.
A good way to control unwanted or nuisance starlings is to remove all artificial food sources such as bird feeders or grain and to remove water sources. Bird watchers often see their bird feeders quickly depleted of seed or suet when a flock of starlings have honed in on them.
Starlings are attracted to water. If you are watering livestock, the water in the containers needs to be low enough so the birds cannot reach the water when perched on the edge of the container yet deep enough to where they cannot stand on the bottom. Store grain in bird-proof containers and always clean up any grain that has spilled.
If a large flock is roosting on your property, make outdoor roosts less appealing by using frightening techniques such as noise and visual deterrents. These techniques cause no harm to the starlings, other animals or humans. Examples of noise maker devices include pre-recorded distress and alarm calls, shell crackers, shotguns or anything that makes a loud noise like banging on a metal pan or barrel. Visual devices include reflective bird diverters, Mylar eye spot balloons, lights or hawk kites.
However, if you live in an urban area where starlings are accustomed to loud noises, noise deterrents may not be as effective. Use a physical bird deterrent like garden bird netting to keep starlings out of unwanted areas where you have fruit trees or garden plots. Bird netting can even be used to keep birds out of areas around your house like a balcony or eaves. The garden bird netting is easy to install, quite durable and is readily available.
Using multiple techniques in combination and in a random fashion will greatly increase your success in moving the roost.
If starlings are nesting in a structure or building where they are not wanted, exclude them by sealing all holes 1 inch in diameter or larger. If there is a starling nest visible, remove it before you seal the hole. To keep starlings off ledges, make the perching site undesirable by placing porcupine wire along the ledge or in the corner where they are nesting or fill the space with wood, Styrofoam, Plexiglas, etc. so they cannot perch.
Starlings in one’s back yard can be quite a nuisance during any time of the year due to their aggressive nature and large flocking habits. Starlings rank with pigeons and English sparrows as being bird pests. Being persistent and utilizing the techniques above may alleviate some of the problems with starlings.