Updated: Mar 23
A Touch of Art and History - The Sordid Past of the European Starling
The story goes that in 1890, European Starlings were released into Central Park in New York by lovers of Shakespeare and sophistication. As their name implies, they originally hail from Europe and the surrounding regions. Between 1890 and 1891, it is estimated that approximately 100 birds were released into the wilds of the young United States. In the ~130 years since their release, their population has boomed to over 150 million individuals and this blazoned scourge has spread its range close to eight million square miles.
Great Evening Grosbeak! That is an astounding population and territory jump!
With such a large population, something in our native-bird world had to give. The victim? Cavity-nesting species. This supposed competition against native birds has brought a nerdy bird hatred upon the starling, and likely will not change anytime soon.
Misplaced European Starling Hate
Do not misunderstand me. I understand the hate for this accomplished mimic. North American species are gorgeous, and they belong here. Native species help keep pest populations under control. But I need to drop a truth bomb here:
European Starlings are not going anywhere!
You read that correctly, I just quoted myself. And you can take my quote to the bank and invest it in a high-risk fund. It is a strong truth. It would be financially irresponsible, and likely impossible, to eliminate European Starlings from the North American landscape. It would take an effort on par to wiping out the Carolina Parakeet or the Passenger Pigeon. Should it be considered? Flock no. Take that hate and direct it into something far more useful.
An Establishment of European Starlings
Approximately 1/3 of the world's population of European Starling exists in our (western) hemisphere. At this stage in the bird game, would it be wise to attempt to wipe out 31% of their population? I am going to say.... no. Why? Keep reading.
Map of the European Starling Population Expansion
By the 1970s, the European Starling had colonized most of the continental US. Conversely, since the 1970s, the European Starling has declined approximately 70% in Britain. In Europe, the populations may also be in heavy decline, as Europe has seen a greater than 20% decline in all songbird populations since 1980. Not enough? While the population of European Starlings may be increasing at the limits of its range in North America, the overall population in the US declined 52% between 1966 and 2015. Yikes.
Show the non-native European Starling Some Love
European Starlings are in trouble. Should we, as bird-watchers, birders, and bird-lovers, recognize the beginning stages of their peril and accept them as part of our ecosystem in the US? I say yes! Let's harbor some invasives! We do not know if our western countries will be the wall that holds off the extinction invasion in 100 years, but it does seem to be a strong possibility.
If that argument does not sway you, I have been keeping an ani up my sleeve. A 2003 study found very little detrimental impact, by starlings, on the populations of the 27 native species that were studied. Sapsuckers, however, did show a decline due to European Starlings. If we can find the balance for species that are impacted (sapsuckers), this species can seemingly live here without causing much harm to native wildlife. And with a glossy, iridescent plumage and an unmatched vocal repertoire, why wouldn't we want them visiting our feeders, parks, and natural areas?
It is time, fellow bird people. Unite with me! Love the starling for what it is: an intelligent, sirenic bird that is delightful to see as its feathers shimmer in the sunlight.
I have only four words left to say:
Welcome home, American Starling.
(Geographic isolation and time would likely lead to this designation eventually.)
You can still hate Eurasian Collared-Doves, though. And House Sparrows. And feral cats. And poachers.