The starling is an exotic species introduced to North America from Europe in 1890-91. The initial releases totaled only about 100 birds, but they quickly spread from New York's Central Park reaching southeastern Minnesota by 1929. Within a decade, they could be found throughout Minnesota.
Starlings are insectivores (insect eaters), although they also eat seeds. There is some debate about their impact on agriculture, but it appears that while they do feed on agricultural crops they also destroy large numbers of detrimental insects that feed on crops as well. There is little doubt that they congregate in very large flocks in fall, which may cause complaints with their noise and droppings.
Their biggest impact is probably on native birds. Because starlings are widespread, numerous, and aggressive, they often outcompete native cavity-nesting birds for the available nest sites.
The starling's wide range through Europe and much of North America and relatively high densities make them one of the world's most numerous birds. North America's population of these birds is estimated at approximately 200 million.
Starlings pry open feeding holes on the surface of the ground by plunging their long bills into the top layers of grass and soil and opening their bills. The resulting hole exposes insects and other food items. This feeding strategy may permit starlings to thrive in the upper Midwest even in harsh winter weather, while other insectivores must migrate south for the winter.
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Key ID Features: This small, short-tailed bird is black in spring, but acquires spotted plumage in fall. The spotted ends of the feathers have worn away by spring leaving an all black plumage. Bill is yellow during breeding season, otherwise black.
Present in the Park: Year-round residents, although some may migrate.
Habitat: Open and semi-forested areas; particularly common in agricultural areas. Nests are constructed of twigs and grasses in cavities.
Did You Know?
At Lake Itasca, the elevation of the Mississippi River is 1,475 feet above sea level. It drops to sea level at the Gulf of Mexico. More than half of that drop occurs within the state of Minnesota.