Throughout most of North America, European Starling is a four letter word. There are groups dedicated to species like Eastern Bluebirds and Purple Martins and with extensive writings on how to keep starlings at bay and even recommendations on how to legally trap and kill them should they drive away North American birds.
However, populations in Europe are floundering. According to an article from the BBC, “Numbers across the U.K. have declined by 80% since 1979 and by nearly a third in the past 10 years.
Across Europe it is thought 40 million of the birds have disappeared over the past three decades.
“Our records show that we have lost more starlings across Europe than any other farmland bird,” said Dr Richard Gregory, from the RSPB’s bird monitoring section.
“Forty million starlings lost represents over 150 for every hour since the 1980s.”
You can read the full article here, but one can’t help but wonder, why do starlings flourish in North America and why do they dwindle in their native country? Dr. Rob Robinson from the British Trust for Ornithology told BBC Nature that “studies so far point to a decline of traditional, established pastures as a major threat to the birds. Intensively farmed land, he told BBC Nature, made it more difficult for the birds to find their favorite food – cranefly larvae that live in undisturbed soil.”
Here in North America, many people who feed birds find starlings the bully of the bird feeder who frequently chase birds larger than themselves away. They are known to guzzle suet and devour any seeds out of the shell (incidentally, if you want to keep starlings away, feed black-oil sunflower and safflower, they are not physically capable of taking hard shells off of seeds).
I checked out the food habits of starlings on Birds of North America Online to see how the introduced European Starlings fared food wise across the pond. They say, “Extremely diverse diet that varies geographically, with the age of individuals, and with season. Generally invertebrates when available, fruits and berries, grains and certain seeds during other times of the year. Unusual abundances of food items, e.g. arboreal insects, garbage, livestock feed, etc. are also exploited.”
So, do we have a more robust and adaptable population of starlings in North America? Perhaps, being brought over back when shipping birds was incredible dicey means we got the “cream of the crop” the crazy experimenters who would any type of food and therefore adapted to this new world better? The first time starlings were introduced in North America, they didn’t take, it took more than one try (if Wikipedia is to be believed).
Will the U.K. be able to get a handle on their starlings? Will there have to be an intercontinental reintroduction? Something to think about if you are in North America and are vexed by European Starlings in your yard. One person’s trash bird is another’s treasure.