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Starling vs. Blackbird: How to Tell the Difference

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starling vs blackbird

Starlings and blackbirds are two of the most common backyard birds in the US, and they share a lot of similarities from their dark color to their similar diet. They can even be seen flocking together in most areas. However, there are some major differences between the two—differences that can help spotters and keen birdwatchers to identify the species they have seen. For example, while the two types of birds can be difficult to differentiate from a distance, they have markings that should make them easier to identify from up close.

Below, we look at these two popular species of bird and look at their similarities and differences.hummingbird divider

Visual Differences

starling vs blackbird sidebyside
Image Credit: Left: Starling (vinsky2002, Pixabay) ; Right: Blackbird (Danita Delimont, Shutterstock)

At a Glance

  • Origin: Europe, Asia, Africa
  • Size: 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 15 years
  • Domesticated?: No
  • Origin: North America, Central America, Eurasia, Africa
  • Size: 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 5 years
  • Domesticated?: No 

hummingbird divider Starling Overview

Greater Blue Eared Starling
Image Credit: vinsky2002, Pixabay

Starlings are medium-sized songbirds that originate from the Old World, which consists of Europe, Asia, and Africa. They were introduced to the US in the 19th Century, and their numbers have increased significantly since their introduction. They are considered a pest because the species compete with native species for food and are known to eat crops.


Starlings have dark plumage, which can appear very similar to that of a blackbird when viewed from a distance. However, the dark color has a metallic sheen to it, and the starling also has white speckles and brown framing on the feathers. They have yellow bills, which can be similar to those of the blackbird.

Greater Blue Eared Starling
Image Credit: Daniel Danckwerts, Shutterstock


The starling is a direct bird that goes about its business with purpose. They tend to live in open country and will eat insects as well as seeds, grass, and berries. They will consume crops and, as a result, are considered a pest by many. Starlings are well known for their murmurations, when tens or hundreds of thousands of the birds will fly together, seemingly in unison. The large flocks will swoop and fly together for half an hour or more before landing to nest for the night. 


The species prefers open spaces, which means that starlings can be found in parklands as well as in natural open spaces. They may also be found in woodland and can be found in gardens, especially where several gardens group together.

hummingbird divider Blackbird Overview

brewer’s blackbird on the ground
Image Credit: ArtTower, Pixabay

Although they do share some similarities with starlings, it is easy to identify blackbirds up close, although there are several different species to be found in the US blackbirds do tend to be a little larger than starlings but are seen in similar habitats.


The exact appearance of blackbirds differs according to the species, but they tend to have a black or very dark brown body, which may be iridescent in parts. They do not normally have the same white and brown marks and spots as the starling. Some, such as the red-winged blackbird, are easy to identify because of the titular marking. Others may appear quite plain in comparison.

brewer's blackbird perching on rock
Image By: K-nana, Shutterstock


Some blackbirds are migratory while others remain throughout the year. They eat insects and berries, and they will feed in flocks, although the blackbird tends to be more solitary than the starling, so you are unlikely to see them in such large groups. The Red-Winged Blackbird is an exception, and this species can be seen in numbers rivaling that of the Starling.


Again, the preferred habitat of the blackbird depends on the species. The Brewer’s Blackbird prefers open spaces while the Red-Winged Blackbird will be found in marshy areas. 

hummingbird divider What Are the Differences Between Starlings & Blackbirds?

There are some similarities between starlings and blackbirds. Both types of birds are found throughout the US and are dark in color. They have similar diets and may also live in similar habitats and areas. However, it is usually easy to tell the differences when up close and by paying attention to the colors and markings.


Blackbirds are typically all-black in color, with the females potentially being a grayer or browner color than the female. Starlings, although also dark in color, have white speckling as well as a brown border around the feathers. They have some iridescence in their color, too.

brewers blackbird
Image By: 2009fotofriends, Shutterstock

Murmuration and Flocking

Some species of blackbird can be quite solitary, although they will migrate in flocks, and they may also join flocks of other birds, including sparrows. Sparrows are especially well known for gathering in large numbers and they will swoop and fly together in patterns: a practice known as a murmuration. 

Greater Blue Eared Starling
Image By: Dave Montreuil, Shutterstock

Other Similar Birds

Blackbirds and starlings can be confused for one another from a distance because of their relatively similar size and color, although it should be easy to tell which bird you are looking at closely. Grackles, which are a common type of blackbird in the US, are also seen frequently and share some of the same properties as these two bird species.

hummingbird divider

Summing Up

Blackbirds and starlings are common backyard birds in the US, and while they are both dark in color and roughly the same size, they are easy to tell apart. Blackbirds are usually a single color while starlings have speckles and framing to their feathers. Both types of birds are found in similar locations and can be attracted to your garden with seeds and berries.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Left: Starling ( AndreDD, Shutterstock ); Right: Blackbird (2009fotofriends, Shutterstock)

About the Author Robert Sparks

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.