by Sheldon Owen, Wildlife Specialist, WVU Extension Service
IdentificationEuropean Starlings are dark-colored robin-sized birds that breed from January to June. During the breeding season, their dark feathers show purplish-green iridescence and their bills turn bright yellow. Outside of the breeding season, the starling’s dark-colored feathers are speckled with white spots. Juveniles are pale brown to grey in color.
European Starlings are an exotic species introduced into New York in the late 1800s by someone who wanted to bring all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works to the United States. Since their introduction, starlings have spread across the United States. They are abundant across their range and are known for their aggressive behavior, often throwing hatchlings of other bird species from nesting areas they covet.
HabitatStarlings will nest in holes or cavities in a variety of structures including tree cavities, artificial nest boxes, and holes in buildings or cliff faces. They often cause conflicts with humans by constructing nests in barns, buildings or behind window shutters. Starlings can be boisterous and loud, and their droppings can produce quite a mess around the nest site.
Migratory birds in the U.S. are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Protections do not cover nonnative species whose occurrence is solely the result of intentional or unintentional human-assisted introduction. Therefore the European Starling is not protected. Local ordinances, however, may provide some level of protection to starlings, so check with your local law enforcement or state wildlife officials before beginning a control program.
ExclusionStarlings can be excluded from buildings or other structures by closing all openings larger than one inch. To prevent roosting on ledges, install thin metal spikes (Nixalite® strips) or cover the ledge with metal, wood or plastic at a 45 degree angle so birds will slide off.
Frightening devices such as recorded distress calls, noise devices, bright objects or pyrotechnics (fireworks) can be used to scare starlings away from roosts. Be sure to vary the frightening techniques so birds do not become accustomed to one device or technique. Deploy pyrotechnics in the evening when birds are coming in to roost. Be persistent, as several nights of harassment may be needed to keep the birds away.
Shooting can be effective as a dispersal technique or to reduce the population size in areas with small starling populations. Be sure to practice safe gun handling and check local ordinances for restrictions on the use of air rifles or firearms before implementing a shooting program.
A soft, sticky repellent (such as Tanglefoot®) can also be applied to ledges or structural beams to discourage roosting. Check your local farm and garden store to find commercial varieties. Protecting the surface of the ledge or beam with masking tape or other material before applying the sticky repellent will increase effectiveness on porous surfaces and aid in cleanup.
European Starling control is an undertaking that may require weeks of effort. If you begin at the first signs of damage, are flexible in your approach, and don’t give up, you should be able to keep the birds at bay…at least until next year.