Discover Nature: Missouri's Starlings

Mar 7, 2021

Discover nature this week with Missouri's starlings. When Shakespeare wrote the play Henry the Fourth in 1597, he had no way of knowing the trouble it would bring to North American birds in the 20th century.

Somewhere in the play, Shakespeare made an innocent reference to the starling. This reference led to the release of 60 starlings in New York’s Central Park in 1890. Members of a New York literary society wanted all birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works brought to North America. The transplant took. It turned out starlings were well adapted to life in America’s cities and farms. Fast forward 60 years, and the European starling had spread across the entire continent.

The European starling is a stocky, short-tailed bird, and is distinguished from other black birds by its chunky shape. They are both an omnivorous bird that monopolizes backyard feeders and a ground-foraging insectivore that has strong muscles that open their bill (most other birds have strong muscles to close their bills).

Their nests are built in cavities, often crannies in buildings and signs, but also in woodpecker holes and nest boxes. A clutch has between three to six eggs, and incubation lasts about 12 days. Young fledge in 21 to 23 days, and there are one to two broods per year.

These unwelcoming immigrants are the neighborhood bullies of the bird community. Starlings nest in holes or cavities like woodpeckers, bluebirds and many of our other native birds. A woodpecker may spend hours pecking a hole only to be evicted by a gang of starling thugs.

But even these bad-guy birds have a positive side: starlings consume many lawn and garden pests.

And you can be sure, that with more than 200 million starlings in North America, they are definitively here to stay. So blame it on Shakespeare, not me.

More information about starlings in Missouri can be found online at mdc.mo.gov