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 and came 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 live in every continental U.S. state and Canadian territory. The bird is so prevalent that it is invasive in some areas.
While the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects wild birds from human interference, the European starling is one of three species excluded, since it is an introduced species and not a native one. Most pet starlings are orphaned wild babies that were rejected or fell from their nests. There is no federal law preventing people from keeping starlings as pets but check with state and local wildlife regulatory agencies to learn about any local laws.
Starlings are active, social birds that seemingly enjoy spending time with their owners. Pet European starlings are known for bonding closely with their caretakers and seeking them out for companionship. Although wild birds, they are easy to tame and keep as pets. Once bonded with an owner, they will be affectionate and get cuddly with their keepers.
Starlings are very curious, smart, and interactive. They can obey commands, talk, and even perform tricks.
Speech and Vocalizations
Starlings are every bit as intelligent as other more common pet bird species and can learn to talk. European starlings are accomplished mimics, often copying songs or sounds of other birds and animals (frog calls, goats, cats), or even of mechanical sounds. According to some, starlings can talk better than parrots.
European Starling Colors and Markings
Adult starlings are predominantly black; their plumage has subtle color changes that change with the seasons. During the spring and summer months, the feathers on their head and chest take on beautiful iridescent hues of purple and green. Their legs are pink.
In the colder months, their feathers develop beautiful white tips or stars (giving it its name). Juveniles look completely different with brown plumage until they molt into their adult plumage.
The adult female starling looks less glossy and oily than its male counterpart, but a key difference to tell the sexes apart is the color of their bills; blue for the males and pink for the females.
Caring for the European Starling
If you choose to care for a starling, you will need to understand that you are making a long-term commitment. Starlings can live for up to 20 years. You can't just release one back into the wild if you tire from 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. Starlings raised by humans have no idea how to relate to other birds and will be clueless as to how to hunt for food.
Starlings produce very loose droppings that can be extremely messy in a cage or aviary. Owners need to frequently clean the cage throughout the day.
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 (minimum size: 3 feet square), be prepared to give the bird a couple of hours of supervised exercise time in a bird-safe room each day out of the cage. To make a room bird-safe, remove toxic plants, turn off ceiling fans, close doors and windows, cover the fireplace, and do not allow any other pets in the room.
Common Health Problems
The most common illness that affects starlings is hyperkeratosis, which appears linked to a low-iron diet. An overgrowth of keratin can affect a bird's feathers, wings, feet, legs, beak, and nails.
Be mindful that wild starling droppings can cause some diseases that cause illness in humans, including salmonella, histoplasmosis, and several other bacterial and viral infections.
Diet and Nutrition
In the wild, the European starling is a softbill species that typically eats soft foods such as insects, flowers, and buds. Commercially prepared bird diets, even those meant for songbirds, are not nutritionally adequate for starlings.
The healthiest and longest-lived pet starlings eat a mixture that must be prepared by their owners. The ratio for this mixture includes 2 cups of soaked dry dog or cat food and 1/2 cup of poultry mash (or softbill pellets). In two separate bowls, provide a tablespoon of applesauce and a tablespoon of hard-boiled egg. Remove uneaten foods after one hour to prevent spoilage.
As a treat in a separate bowl, you can offer the following fruits: figs (considered a superfruit for its extremely high nutritional content), berries, grapes, or cherries. For vegetables, you can provide sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, green beans, corn, tomatoes, and peas. Good leafy greens to offer include dandelion greens, beet greens, broccoli florets, celery leaves, and turnip greens. You can also provide crickets or mealworms, which you can purchase through online pet stores and reptile suppliers.
Starlings enjoy being active, and they need proper exercise to stay in top condition. Starlings do not climb as parrots do, so most of their activity comes from free flight. Starling owners need to realize that wing clipping is not an option for these birds. It is highly recommended that starlings enjoy a minimum of at least 2 hours of supervised free flight outside of the cage.
Keep starlings in an area where there is a lot of human activity. 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. Provide plenty of leaves and small twigs for the birds to peck and shred; this will help keep them engaged.
Sweet, affectionate disposition, easy to tame
Intelligent, can learn to speak and do tricks
Requires large cage or aviary and couple hours of exercise
Needs homemade diet
Cannot find for sale in pet stores or breeders
Where to Adopt or Buy a European Starling
Most pet starlings are young orphaned birds that are found and adopted by humans. Obtaining a starling can be difficult, you cannot commonly buy this species in pet stores or through breeders. Because it is an invasive species in some areas, animal rescue organizations may not even accept starlings. If you want one, your best bet is to talk to rescues, vets that treat wild birds, and exterminators during the springtime when these birds are nesting.
More Pet Bird Species and Further Research
Other softbill birds that can make good pets include:
Otherwise, check out our overall guide to pet bird species.