Invasion Biology

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


European starling Sturnus vulgaris is a native species in Eurasia and North America. It has been introduced intentionally to countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa for aesthetic reasons and also for the control of insects, but it is now ironically considered as a pest itself. It has been recently introduced in South America where it is posing a serious threat to the continent because it is spreading very fast [1].

The descriptions of S. vulgaris include; medium sized, black songbird with short, triangular wings with spotted feathers and short tail. Breeding adults and no-breeding adults are differentiated by feathers. The feathers of a breeding adult are thin pointed with yellow bill and black in colour whereas the non-breeding has a black beak and light spots [1].

This alien species has the ability of growing very fast because it is a habitat generalist, it has the ability to utilize a wide variety of habitat types, nest sites and food sources. The fact that it co-exist with humans allows it to become established in agricultural fields, cities, sewage treatment and garbage dumps. [1]

They have a negative impact as they carry diseases like blastomycosis, beef measles and histoplasmosis which are of higher risk to human beings. [1].
Farmers are also experiencing huge problem caused by S. vulgaris as it damage crops, berries and grapes. They also transmit diseases to domestic animals by contaminating water and food sources through live storks.

The overabundance of starlings causes a lack of avian diversity, S. vulgaris drive-off native species like bluebirds (Siglia spp), Purple martin (Progne subis) and Tree swallows (Ridoprone bicolor). After a century of their introduction they contribute in the decline of the above listed species. They have observed taking over the nests of House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) [2].

They pose enough threat to songbird in a way that it is now allowed to kill starling in U.S and Canada and sometimes a bounty is given off to killers. They are not protected by American wild life Conservation laws which make the killing issue not surprising. In other cities their nests are destroyed by human intervention where they intentionally set up the nest boxes in backyards and wooded areas, some also allow Peragrine falcon to build up their nests so that they can help with the control of European starling, as Peragrine falcon are strong eaters of starlings [3].

Economic concern was found in airport at runaways as European starling causes aircraft disasters by clogging up engines causing a shut down of the plane.
One of the Economic benefits posed by European starling in agriculture is the regulation of the number of pests eating the crops. They also serve as food source for some cultures along the Mediterranean Sea [1].

The invasion of European starling is not environmental friendly, it is true that they do assist farmer by controlling pests but the problem still lies immediately as they finish the pests because they become pests themselves and start eating the crops. They also pose high health risk diseases to both humans and animals which concludes European starling as a higher risk invasive species that needs to be removed fast.


1. Matthews, S. and Brandt, K. 2006. South American Invaded: the growing danger of invasive alien species. [Internet]. 23 January 2007; 08:57 UTC [Cited 23 Jan 2007]. Available From:
2. Peterson, R. T. 1947. A field guide to the birds. [Internet]. 23 January 2007; 10:17 UTC [Cited 23 Jan 2007]. Available From:
3. Wikipedia contributors. Peregrine Falcon [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2007 Jan 22, 07:02 UTC [cited 2007 Jan 24]. Available from:

Dianah Nangammbi
Cilla CSIR
P.O Box 395
Tel: +27 12 841 2133
Cell: +27 73 121 3589


  • Some questions that occurred to me after reading your post:

    If S. vulgaris is native to North America, why is it legal to kill them in the US and Canada?

    Besides killing them directly, how else can this invasive threat be handled?

    How big a threat is it in South Africa?

    By Blogger NcK, at January 25, 2007 12:28 PM  

  • Interesting. It is _not_ native to North America. The author of this did not do their research.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 09, 2007 5:38 PM  

  • No kidding european starlings aren't native! Kill them ALL!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at July 09, 2007 6:56 PM  

  • I echo the comments above. In all of the Americas starlings are an invasive species that harass and harm native birds, and damage dwellings and the environment. All starlings in the Americas need to be destroyed.

    By Blogger Rod, at May 18, 2008 3:04 AM  

  • I question whether there is a statistical correlation between the spread and choice of starling nesting sites and the deline of purple martins and bluebirds in the US, and if this correlation is greater than other environmental factors.

    After all, martins (swallows & swifts) & bluebirds prefer grassland settings, which we are destroying as fast as we can to put up strip malls & Wal-Marts, whereas the starling has adapted to many environments and is not confined to a grassland setting. Of course a species is going to decline when we take away their habitat. Of course, that puts the blame on us, and who wants to do that? Much easier to blame something else.

    That starlings are not indigenous, are not really afraid of people, and collect in enormous flocks that are highly visible (esp. at dusk in Fall & Winter), they make a convenient scapegoat. You tube has nice videos of the flocks in movement.

    Starlings are not any more disease-ridden than other species of bird. They are songbirds, and also mimic many other backyard songbirds.

    Their main crime is not being from the Americas and being too successful as a species here. Unlike most backyard birds that have a specific diet (for example, swallows, martins & swifts eat only bugs, finches only eat seeds, etc.) Starlings will thrive on almost anything. They compete for food with a wide spectrum of native birds, and compete for nesting spots with a few kinds of native bird - cavity nesters who are not afraid to nest around people, such as house wrens and the non-native house sparrow. Starlings are great at keeping japanese beetle populations down.

    Incidentally, has anyone here had actual experience with a starling? I had them in my attic & used to shoot them, and in researching them to determine how best to get rid of them found out there is a lot more to the story. Starlings are members of the Mynah family and can be taught to talk, and are often kept as pets in Europe and here (check out you tube for videos). Mozart had a pet starling, and they are used in research to discover how humans and other creatures use vocal sounds in socializing. So it isn't really as simple as just shooting them b/c they aren't from here & they are useless.

    By Blogger Kris, at February 04, 2009 8:19 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Catherine Heiby, at April 15, 2010 3:03 AM  

  • For your information, Starlings are not in any way native to North America. In case you have forgotten, let me refresh your memories. Starlings were given to US Americans as a gift from Brits who thought that US Americans needed a piece of Shakepearean romanticism---thank you so very much---just kidding! THANKS NOT MUCH!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 15, 2010 3:09 AM  

  • Despise these aggressive, invasive bastards.

    Shoot/kill them all, indeed. They are NOT protected in the US/Canada and it's open season.

    -Friend of North American songbirds

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 25, 2011 3:36 PM  

  • Since you are interested in this subject you should fill out this survey. Its short and its for a class. Also this information will get the word out there about the European Starlings. Thanks

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 12, 2012 11:19 PM  

  • By Blogger Yatika Dhingra, at October 16, 2015 11:12 AM  

  • Starlings are just plain nasty. I have handled a number of bird species and starlings stand out because they are covered with lice to a degree approached by no other species. When they confiscate cavity nests of other birds they leave behind lots of lice, rendering the cavity unfit for other species.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 20, 2016 2:33 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger HER, at December 31, 2017 1:13 AM  

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