The European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) was introduced from Great Britain in 1890 in an effort to bring all species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to North America. Approximately 60 individuals were released into New York City’s Central Park. Another 70 or so were released at the same time in Portland, Oregon. It is unknown whether the birds in the Oregon release survived over time, but the New York introduction has spread and continues to persist across the continent. Since its release, the European Starling is now present in all contiguous United States, Alaska, and most Canadian Provinces.
It has now become the most abundant species of bird in all of North America, reaching a current estimated population of 140 million individuals. Starlings are omnivorous and there have been some marginal benefits to their presence as they consume vast numbers of insects that could affect agricultural productivity.
However, the overall impact of these as well as other invasive species has been negative. Starlings out-compete many native species for cavity nesting sites, food resources, and roosting sites. They cause tremendous economic damage as agricultural pests on fruit and ripening grain crops. Starlings disperse throughout their range during breeding seasons, but aggregated to form dense flocks during fall and winter. Enormous flocks can blacken the sky when they acrobatically maneuver in formations called murmurations as they prepare to roost each evening at these times of year. They roost in numbers often numbering in the tens of thousands or more, and can kill the very roost trees they occupy as a result of the bird’s acidic droppings. They frequently nest or roost in and on buildings and other infrastructure in urban and rural areas. They excrete unsightly and corrosive wastes that are difficult to remove and clean. Wastes can accumulate to promote the presence and growth of deadly histoplasmosis and other human diseases. An important problem with these birds is the severe risk they pose to aviation safety.
In the United States, European Starlings are responsible for more human fatalities due to bird strikes to aircraft than any other single species. This includes an incident in 1960 when starlings were struck by a Lockheed Electra aircraft at Boston’s Logan Airport that resulted in a crash that killed 62 passengers and crew.
Efforts to directly control European Starling populations by trapping or poisoning the birds are marginally successful in limited local situations, in part due to their high reproductive rates and ubiquitous presence. Habitat management and limiting suitable nesting sites can deter the birds from using specific areas but have only negligible effects on overall populations. Consequently, in situations such as agricultural crops, roosting sites in urban areas, or on airports, active dispersal of these birds remains the most viable option to mitigate economic and safety concerns.
As with many flocking species, European Starlings have alarm and distress calls in their repertoire of vocalizations, and our Bird Gard(tm) bioacoustic recordings are effective in dispersing birds from specific areas. When combined with other techniques, distress calls are even more effective. Pyrotechnic devices such as our 15mm Screamer Siren and Bird Banger cartridgess or 12-gauge Shellcrackers are extremely effective at times and when used by trained and skilled personnel. The Scare Away line of LP gas cannons has been a favorite tool for combating Starling infestation for more than 60 years.
At airports, the Scare Wars® system is considered one of the best tools available to harass and disperse these birds from critical areas on the airfield. Persistent and diligent use of active dispersal techniques can help alleviate concerns in areas where European Starlings create nuisances, cause economic losses, or affect human health and safety. Use of such devices is critical to local success as the European Starling is here to stay in North America.