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June 20, 2019

Star-Crossed Starlings

By Lauren Hogarth

First brought to North America in the 19th century by Shakespeare enthusiasts, European starlings are now among the continent’s most plentiful birds. Their stocky, black bodies have short tails, triangular wings, and long, pointed bills. They are extremely resilient birds; they are strong fliers, eat a wide variety of foods, and are willing to use an array of places to nest and roost. This flexibility helps them thrive in both urban and rural areas such as cities and suburbs, as well as on farms. They are one of few bird species who are able to live in otherwise barren industrial wastelands. More than 200 million European starlings live between Alaska to Mexico today, and many consider them pests.

Starling Nests

Homeowners resent these birds for their abundance and aggressiveness; as they can be harmful toward other native bird species as well as causing quite a ruckus for humans. An invasive species, starlings are cavity nesters and can overtake structures in a very short period of time. Even just a pair of starlings can be a force to be reckoned with. They build gigantic nests that require professional clean-up. They enjoy nesting inside attics, dryer vents, soffits, fan vents in bathrooms, and other areas that are accessible to them. Starlings will enter attics via abandoned holes made by woodpeckers and other pests.

When starlings nest in larger spaces such as attics, they do not seek out a particular spot to build the nest; they overtake the entire space. These nests can lead to health problems for humans due to their excrement. Even when starlings decide to nest in confined spaces such as a dryer vents, they will still make a mess. Oftentimes homeowners will hear a starling in their dryer vent, chimney, or attic and assume it is another pest, such as a squirrel.

Associated Problems

Starlings are quite the impressionists; they are able to learn the calls of at least 20 different species, often including (but not limited to) the Eastern Wood-Pewee, Killdeer, meadowlarks, Northern Bobwhite, Wood Thrush, Red-tailed Hawk, American Robin, and Northern Flicker. They are known for being aggressive toward and overtaking the nests of other bird species. Male starlings are especially aggressive in their search for nest sites— They will peck holes in the eggs of other birds, throw out their nesting material, and kill their young. Starlings will also build their nests on top of occupied nests containing eggs, and can even evict birds as large as ducks!

In addition, female starlings will attempt to lay eggs in the nests of other females. This is a common tactic used by those without mates— as the longer it takes to get nest started is directly related to the probability of the its success. Most starlings breed and start laying early. They have been known to dive-bomb anything that goes near the nests, including humans and other animals, to protect their young.

Controlling Starlings

Starlings are one of three species of birds not under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This means they have an open season year-round; where other birds have a specific hunting season, or no season at all. If you find a nest, keep in mind federal law allows you to remove starling and house sparrow eggs; however, it is illegal to remove the nests or eggs of all other birds, so proper identification is key. It is best to refer to a licensed wildlife professional when dealing with and handling birds and their nesting material.

The key to starling eradication is complete removal and clean-up of the nest, but also exclusion of the entrances as well. During the eradication process it is extremely important to not only remove the birds, but their their nesting materials as well. The nests can create fire hazards and/or block off ventilation to the home, restricting how the home retains heat in the winter. Their fecal matter is hazardous to human health, so it is imperative to leave their nesting material untouched.

Starling droppings, like those of many other bird species, can contain the histoplasmosis fungus. Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat droppings. The infection transmits to humans when the spores become airborne, typically during cleanup or demolition. Histoplasmosis can lead to flu-like symptoms and in some cases death. Those who have underlying lung diseases, such as COPD, may develop a chronic histoplasmosis as a result. This is why it is important for professionals to properly and safely handle the nests and birds themselves.

If you believe you have a starling infestation, call a licensed wildlife professional. There will need to be not only removal, but exclusion work and clean-up involved in the entire eradication process. Hogarth’s specializes in full-service starling eradication, so please give us a call today!

 


Sources

“European Starling.” All About Birds: European Starling, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2018, www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/European_Starling

“Histoplasmosis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 27 Jan. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/histoplasmosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20373495.

“What To Do About Starlings.” Wild Neighbors, The Humane Society of the United States, 2017, www.humanesociety.org/resources/what-do-about-starlings.

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