The European starling, or the common starling, is one of the most widely distributed wild birds in North America. While not sold in pet stores, orphaned wild birds adopted by humans can make surprisingly good pets that are devoted to humans and capable of learning speech.
Common Names: Starling, European starling, common starling, English starling
Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris
Adult Size: 10 inches
Life Expectancy: 15 to 20 years
Origin and History
Starlings are native to Europe but were introduced to North America during the late 1800s. It is an extremely adaptable species with North American estimated to have more than 200 million starlings—all of them thought to have descended from a flock of 100 birds released in New York's Central Park in 1890. Wild populations of European starlings have now been documented in every continental US state and Canadian territory. The bird is so prevalent that it is regarded as invasive in some areas.
There are a number of subspecies distributed worldwide, but the one most typically kept as a pet is Sturnus vulgaris vulgaris.
While the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects wild birds from human interference, the European starling is one of three species that are excluded, due to the fact that it is an introduced species, not a native one. This means that there is no federal law preventing people from keeping starlings as pets, however, potential owners are encouraged to check with their state and local wildlife regulatory agencies to learn about any laws in their area.
Most pet starlings in North America were wild babies that were orphaned, fell from their nests, or rejected by the mother for some reason. This is not a bird typically sold in pet stores.
Starlings are active, social birds who love spending time with their owners. Pet European starlings are known for bonding closely with their caretakers and seeking them out for companionship. Starlings are every bit as intelligent as other more common pet bird species, and can even learn to talk. According to some, starlings can even talk better than parrots. Those who want to keep a pet starling should be prepared for a very curious, smart, and interactive pet.
European Starling Colors and Markings
Adult starlings are predominantly black with subtle color changes taking place within their plumage throughout the year. During the spring and summer months, the feathers on the head and chest take on beautiful iridescent hues of purple and green, while in the colder months their feathers develop beautiful white tips, or "stars." The legs are pink, and the bill is black in winter and yellow in summer. Juvenile starlings are normally a brownish-gray color until they molt into their adult plumage.
Caring for the European Starling
Obtaining a starling can be difficult, as the species is not commonly sold in pet stores. Because it is regarded as an invasive species in some areas, animal rescue organizations may not even accept starlings. Most pet starlings are young orphaned birds that are found and adopted by humans.
If you become a parent to an orphaned baby starling, you will need to understand that you are making a long-term commitment. Starlings can live for up to 20 years, and you can't just release one back into the wild if you tire of taking care of it. Once these birds imprint on their human caretakers, (which happens very quickly if they are handfed as babies) they will not be able to join a wild flock, will have no idea how to relate to other birds, and will be clueless as to how to hunt for food.
The European starling is a softbill species that typically eats soft foods such as insects, flowers, and buds. For this reason, a starling produces very loose droppings that can be extremely messy in a cage or aviary. Owners need to be prepared for frequent cleaning chores. Starlings do acceptably well in a large parrot cage or small aviary, but an entire room is a better setting. Ideally, the cage or enclosure should be large enough to provide the bird with much-needed flight space. If kept in a smaller cage, be prepared to give the bird several hours of supervised exercise time each day out of the cage.
Starlings are best kept in an area where there is a lot of human activity going on, as these are intelligent birds that need a lot of mental stimulation. Make sure to provide plenty of toys and other items in the cage to keep them occupied. Plenty of leaves and small twigs to peck and shred will help keep them engaged.
For more information on raising European starlings, Starling Talk is a great online resource with information on the care and keeping of pet starlings.
Feeding the European Starling
In the wild, European starlings enjoy a variety of insects as their main source of food. Because of this, commercially prepared bird diets, even those meant for songbirds, are not nutritionally adequate for starlings. The healthiest and longest-lived pet starlings eat diets that their owners prepare for them at home. It is best for potential starling owners to become familiar with a good, nutritionally sound starling food recipe. One suggested recipe includes 2 cups of soaked dry dog food, 1/2 cup of poultry mash, supplemented with applesauce and hard-boiled egg.
Starlings enjoy being active, and they need proper exercise in order to stay in top condition. Starlings do not climb as parrots do, so most of their exercise comes from free flight. It's important for starling owners to realize that wing clipping is not an option for these birds. For a starling to be healthy, you must provide it with a large flight cage, aviary, or dedicated room so that it has the opportunity to exercise its wings. It is highly recommended that starlings enjoy a minimum of one to two hours supervised free flight outside of the cage every day, in a "bird-proofed" area.
More Pet Bird Species and Further Research
Other "soft-bill" birds that can make good pets include:
Otherwise, check out our overall guide to pet bird species.