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With approximately 200 million European Starlings now calling the US their home, the European bird has become one of the most common visitors in gardens and over open land. Their murmurations are a sight to behold, but their aggressive nature and their propensity to devour crops and eat seeds from the garden mean that many consider the species to be a pest.
Despite this, they are popular with amateur bird spotters and ornithologists alike, and while the male and female share a lot of the same characteristics and physical traits, certain differences make the genders easy to differentiate.
Read on to learn about the main differences between the two sexes and for more information on both.
Starlings were introduced to the US in 1890 by a group that wanted to introduce all birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s books. After several attempts, the group successfully released about 100 of the species in Central Park in New York. All of today’s 200 million Starlings in the country originate from these original 100. They are now found in all mainland US states and in large areas of Canada, too.
The bird is considered native to Europe as well as southwest Asia and north Africa. They are adaptable birds with a diet that usually consists of a combination of insects, seeds, and berries.
Although rarely kept as pets, and not sold in pet shops, some people have adopted Starlings that have been injured or become ill, and they have gone on to become loyal and responsive pets. They are considered intelligent and can mimic the sounds they hear around them.
Generally considered a pest because they compete with native species, the Starling nevertheless makes a welcome visitor to the gardens of many people.
The male Starling is a somewhat scruffy-looking bird with very dark brown feathers. They have white speckles, although these do fade leading up to spring. The male’s feathers have a glossy look, and their predominantly yellow bill has a blue base to it. Males also have long throat feathers as well as dark brown irises. The finish of the coat, the neck feathers, and the bill and iris colors are the most effective ways to tell males from females.
The starling is known as an aggressive species of bird that will attack other birds. They are also noisy and boisterous. The male is the nest builder and will start to build the nest in winter, fighting over the best nesting sites. They use the nest they build to attract the attention of females. The male is also known to sing throughout the year, including during breeding season.
The male builds a nest to attract potential mates and once the female is brooding, the male may go off to mate with another female, although this isn’t always the case. Both sexes share parental responsibilities.
Although some males are monogamous, if a first brood is laid early enough in the season, the male is likely to go and look for a second female to mate with. He may share his parenting between the two nests, although he is more likely to pay more attention to the first brood. As such, nests belonging to monogamous males and first broods have a higher survival rate.
The female Starling is roughly the same size as the male and has similar colors and markings. However, her coat is not as glossy as the male’s. The female often has white tips on the wings and short neck feathers. Female bills have a pink base, and their irises are a lighter brown than the male.
The female is not as prone to singing as the male, but she will sing when a male, and specifically the nest he has built, takes her fancy. At this point, she will sing for several days to show her appreciation. Females are not usually as aggressive as males, but the female will become very protective over her eggs.
The female shares parental responsibilities with the male, including incubating the eggs and retrieving and providing food for the young.
Starlings are noisy and aggressive, and they can destroy crops, but they are also intelligent and their murmurations are incredible to see. Males and females are very similar. They both sing, although the male tends to be more vocal for longer, and they usually share parental responsibilities, although polygamous males will give more attention to their first brood than any subsequent broods. It is possible to tell the sexes apart by the glossiness of the coat, how long the hackle feathers on the bird’s neck, and the color of their irises and the base of their bills.
Featured Image Credit: Left – Male Starling (AndreDD, Shutterstock); Right – Female Starling (Jukka Jantunen, Shutterstock)
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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