European Starling

Sturnus vulgaris
North American Range Map

Not a true blackbird, European Starlings were first introduced to the United States in 1890. I’ve read that one hundred starlings were released in New York’s Central Park, hoping all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works would become established in the New World. There are reports that now these birds are found across the four corners of the earth. All of North America plays host to these birds. They are year-round residents north to Alaska and northern Canada, and south to northern Mexico. During winter, some of their population will fly further south to central and southern Mexico, the Bahamas, and even eastern Cuba.

These birds sometimes gather in enormous flocks before roosting in the evening, then fly over their intended roosting site in magically orchestrated maneuvers called murmurations. In those moments where we witness the spectacles, even the most steadfast detractors among us have to admire the birds we otherwise might despise.

Native Range Map

Science recognises twelve probable subspecies of European Starling world-wide. The birds released in North America were S. v. vulgaris:

  • S. v. vulgaris breeds in Europe.
  • S. v. faroensis lives on the Faroe Islands.
  • S. v. zetlandicus lives on the Hebrides and Shetland Islands.
    S. v. granti lives on the Azores.
  • S. v. poltaratskyi lives in Asia, east of the Ural Mountains to Lake Baikal. They spend winters south as far as India.
  • S. v. tauricus breeds in Russia and south to Asia-Minor. They spend winters south, to the Middle East.
  • S. v. purpurascens breeds in Turkey, Georgia and Armenia, and spends winters as far south as Egypt.
  • S. v. oppenheimi lives in Turkey and Iraq.
  • S. v. caucasicus lives in the Volga Delta, Caucasus and Transcaucasia regions, including Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea region, and Iran.
  • S. v. nobilior breeds in Iran, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan, and spends winters on the Indian Subcontinent.
  • S. v. porphyronotus breeds in Kazakhstan and China, south to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They spend winters on the Indian Subcontinent.
  • S. v. humii breeds in the western Himalayas, and spends winters on the Indian Subcontinent.
  • S. v. minor lives in the Indus Valley (Pakistan).

Starlings aren’t popular among many of us who love birds. We know they can ruthlessly evict or kill native birds who compete for the limited number of cavities to nest in. In my calmer moments, I recognise it isn’t the fault of the birds, so much as the ignorance of humans who vainly believe they can improve on nature. Time and time again we’ve attempted experiments, later compounding the problem by bringing additional species to control the population of those we recently introduced. We’ve accidentally introduced rats, then snakes to control rats, mongoose to control snakes. The list of failed experiments is long.

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