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The good, the bad, and the ugly about European Starlings

rk100

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about European Starlings
As with all threads of this sort, this post will ultimately consist of my personal experiences with my individual birds and not be 100% true of all starlings. However, I'll start with the general or more physical traits that I feel are pretty much universal to starlings as opposed to hookbills, or even non-soft bill passerines (such as finches and canaries).
General Observations:
The good:
⦁ Starlings are softbills with unique beaks that are not designed to deshell seeds or crack nuts, but rather to pry open soft earth and other materials to search for food, so bites from them don't hurt nearly as much as those from similarly sized hookbills, or non-softbill passerines who deshell seeds or crack nuts. Blood can only be drawn from especially tender skin such as one's lips or nose, or a scab.

⦁ Starlings are not very destructive because they can't chew.

⦁ For their size, I'd say the vocalizations of starlings have a low maximum volume. They seem to be unable to pump out the raw decibels of other similarly sized birds. I believe lovebirds, green cheek conures, and cockatiels are all capable of louder peak decibels. This is not to say starlings are quiet! Simply that their overall volume may not be as loud or painful to the ears as most other birds in their size range. This probably does depend a bit, however, on the particular sounds the individual starling has chosen to add to his or her repertoire. ;)

⦁ In my experience, despite their reputation in the wild, companion starlings don't seem to be overly aggressive or territorial birds. During spring hormones they may become more territorial or jealous, but I don't believe it will be to the extent of most hookbills, or even some other more solitary passerines (such as canaries). Mainly they will find a suitable high location from which to 'wing wave' (territorial display) and perform whatever their 'angry song' (lol) is. When offended or otherwise feeling intruded upon, they tend to posture (stand straight up, spiking their head feathers, trying to be the tallest starling possible :D) and usually "poke-lunge" towards other birds, shooing them away without actual harm being done. This isn't to say accidents couldn't happen, of course. Birds in their size range (or smaller) are certainly at risk of being "speared" by a perturbed starling. (I believe a budgie would lose a physical confrontation with a starling.) Careful supervision, particularly during springtime is crucial, but I personally believe starlings are much more "live and let live" than are many birds, and as long as they are respected and given their space, they seem to do the same for other birds.

⦁ I think starlings are a good middle-ground between advanced and mellow in terms of temperament. My meaning here is that they have a good deal of memory capacity, personal opinions, moods, inquisitive nature, and trainability without being as temperamental, neurotic, or unforgiving as I've heard many hookbills can be. I've never had a cockatiel, but I think they may be similar to cockatiels in this regard.

⦁ Hand-raised starlings bond very closely to their humans without (in my experience) developing the same level of overbonding or inappropriate sexual behaviour common to parrots. It's certainly possible for a starling to direct sexual behaviour towards a human, and I'll describe my experiences with my individual birds later on, but I just don't think starlings are as problematic as most parrots. I think, if allowed, most starlings are velcro birds. They remind me of loyal dogs who love nothing more than to be close to their human flock.

⦁ I don't think starlings are truly capable of the same sort of "one-person bird syndrome" that parrots tend to develop. While starlings are monogamous in the wild, they don't appear to possess the same programming regarding mates and jealousy. They don't seem to want to bite their mate to warn them away from an "interloper" and they also don't seem to want to lunge at, or dive-bomb strangers. In my experience, they choose "flight" over "fight" when it comes to people they don't like. For the most part, they're flock birds and accept more than one human as well as other birds as part of their flock. This changes a bit during spring hormones (which I will refer to as "yellow-beak" :D) but even then, I believe starlings are more "bark" than "bite" and don't tend to become as outright physically aggressive as parrots.


⦁ Starlings are not prone to behaviours such as plucking, learned screaming, or real cage aggression (not in the sense of parrots).


⦁ Starlings are accomplished mimics and will incorporate all manner of interesting sounds, tunes, and words into their repertoire. I believe they're as talented in this regard as many parrots and probably more-so than some. That said, my particular starlings are not linguistic or musical prodigies (I'll describe later on), but I've read/heard of many amazing starlings that hum or whistle tunes, speak in full sentences, some even using words in appropriate and/or comical contexts.

⦁ The hormonal cycle of starlings is quite different from most birds kept as pets or companions. The "short and simple" version of this is that it's easy and straightforward to manage their hormones as long as you keep them on a strict *photoperiod of either 12hrs light/12hrs dark (resulting in a normal yearly cycle) or a schedule of 13hrs light/11hrs dark, which will, in most cases, keep them out of "yellow-beak mode" indefinitely. This is because it is the extended, long days of summer which "turn off" the breeding hormones in starlings, unlike many species, in which long days always serve to "turn on" the breeding hormones and short days serve to "turn off" the breeding hormones. The breeding cycle is necessary for a molt in starlings, however, and is important for them to molt as needed, but I think it's perfectly fine for indoor starlings to skip a molt if their feathers are in good condition. Either way, it's nice that it's possible to shorten their hormonal season, AKA: "crazy yellow-beak time" by exposing them to artificially longer days for about two or three weeks.
(*Further note about photoperiod: in my personal experience, photoperiod is primarily about lighting (the length of daylight hours), but not 100%. I've found that the actual hours of wakefulness are important. This means noises during sleep time, even if the cage is pitch black, can disrupt their cycle to some degree. I theorize this happens with many parrots, as well.)

The bad :

⦁ Starlings are prone to (at least in my experience) becoming perch potatoes. Mine will not fly for pleasure and don't have much interest in toys, sadly. They enjoy shredding paper and I can get them interested in pockets I've made for them, but for the most part they prefer napping and just sitting around, especially if I'm not actively trying to engage them with something. They always enjoy poking clothes with "people" in them, but aren't nearly as interested in pieces of cloth I've specifically given them to play with.:laugh:

⦁ While starlings have soft beaks and aren't capable of the sort of painful, crushing, or flesh tearing bites of hookbills, this does not mean they're altogether incapable of inflicting pain and definitely doesn't mean they're docile! Starlings are more parrot-like than pigeon-like when it comes to the fact that they will bite humans out of defensiveness or anger. A poke to the eye (whether from curiosity or aggression) would be extremely unpleasant and could very well result in permanent injury. Allowing a starling close to your face is something you should do only when you've built a sufficient trust, much like with any bird.

⦁ Most likely because starlings aren't allopreeners and thus have no need of gentle use of their beak, I don't believe it's possible to train a starling to be gentle. No such thing as "gentle-beak". While their bites and pokes are relatively non-threatening, you pretty much get 100% all the time and they generally aren't shy about showing their distaste by using their beak.

⦁ I mentioned above that starlings aren't very destructive because they don't chew, but this doesn't mean they aren't destructive in other ways. They will make short work of paper (don't leave any important books lying around!) and they seem to instinctively know where the structural weakness is in a piece of cloth. They are adept at opening new holes or making holes much larger. They can turn cloth (particularly knit fabrics, or anything easy to pry apart) into Swiss cheese. :D

⦁ Starlings turn into vicious beasts with the rise of the moon. Just kidding, but seriously, it seems a species trait to become very moody when it gets dark and when they're trying to sleep. They become very vocally fussy, and bite, poke, and twist at anything that comes within reach. It varies from bird to bird, but I think most starlings get grouchy at bedtime.

⦁ Also probably because starlings aren't allopreeners, they aren't cuddly birds. Now, what this means is really that they aren't tactile, or "hands-on", though it is perfectly possible to develop such a bond and trust that an individual starling will sit on your shoulder, very close to you, perhaps even allowing your cheek to rest against them. They can have their own version of a "cuddle" and seem fine with kisses. They simply don't enjoy scritches or pets of any sort and object to being held or handled. It is possible, however, to build trust and there are exceptions in which they might even not "mind" being handled entirely, but it seems most starlings hate the action of being grabbed, even if they don't care much once they're in your hand.

⦁ Because they don't have the same body language or instincts as parrots it probably isn't as easy to teach a starling to volunteer to put on a harness. As in, I don't know if they could ever learn to bow their head or step into the harness as I've seen parrots do.

⦁ Not really a "bad" per se, but starlings LOVE water and seem to require almost daily baths. They can make enormous splashing messes and it can be a problem if you don't have an actual bird room and aren't able to take them into the bathroom.

⦁ They appear to have rather sensitive sinuses and don't deal well with dust. They seem prone to sneezing and nasal discharge and I believe frequent baths are important because of this, as well.

⦁ Diet isn't very simple or straightforward. The advice of experts is to feed them a finely ground (and usually wetted) mixture of high quality (first ingredient chicken) dog or cat food with poultry layer mash (or parrot pellets) with occasional supplementation of egg and applesauce. That said, due to a personal tragedy, I'm now more leery of commercial dog and cat food, fearing further exposing my birds to potential contaminants (heavy metals and pesticides), and have chosen to go a different route (homemade mash mixture as a base food with dry budgie-sized pellets as a supplement) , which would likely earn me the scorn of a certain forum. Whatever diet you choose to feed your starling, it's going to require the same effort and time as a larger parrot (just smaller quantities) and it's not as simple as dumping dry food into a cup. Spoilage is an issue and starlings are somewhat messy eaters. I prepare my food monthly and freeze it in appropriately sized containers, thawing in the fridge as needed.

⦁ Also, on the note of diet and nutrition, starlings are prone to develop overgrown beaks and large footscales (hyperkeratosis) if their diet is somehow unbalanced or lacking. Usually it's a lack of vitamin A, but might also have something to do with calcium / phosphorous balance. I believe an erratic/improper molt cycle may affect their footscales, as well.

The ugly:
⦁ One word: POOP! :roflmao::lol:Starlings poop a lot, typically once every 5 to 10 minutes (7 on average-- yes I've counted!), and usually everywhere. It's not entirely impossible to teach them a little toilet etiquette, but I don't believe in most cases one is going to have a starling truly potty trained to the extent of a parrot of similar size. I know potty training is a controversial subject for many, but I personally believe if it's done right and not in an overly restrictive manner that will harm the bird, it's fine. I have specially designed T-stands in my room, including mini stands, for my birds to use and it does keep the mess down considerably, but despite a fair amount of working with them, a lot still ends up splatted wherever they've decided to perch for more than 10 seconds. :roflmao: I'm overjoyed when 60% of the poops on a given day have landed in appropriate areas. Starlings don't seem to hold their poop at night, by the way. I recall anecdotal reports of at least one that does, but mine don't. :D Starlings are aware of poops and can even associate words with the action. They are capable of being directed to a proper location and may even run / fly there themselves. The issue seems to be that they will do it for a treat, but won't go out of their way to go to the T-stand or cage when they don't want a treat. If they need to go, they will go. They don't have major opinions about where. They are fastidious about their bath water and will never soil it on purpose, but nearly everything else is fair game. The floors, walls, and almost every perchable surface in my room are frequently "redecorated":eek: and require nearly daily scrubbing.

⦁ Reminder, starlings tend to be velcro birds! :wacky::lol: This means your clothes may often look like the bottom of a bird roost.

⦁ That said, I baby-sat some budgies once and I found their pooping habits actually drove me more insane than my starlings. I was having to wipe down the cage surfaces (in cage platforms, which I don't think work particularly well for budgies!) every half-hour. With my starlings, I only need to wipe down their surfaces once a day.

That was quite a ramble. I wanted to start on general observations, but again, these are still just my personal experiences and may not be true of all starlings. I will share more about my individual starlings and their different personalities a bit later. I don't know if I can fit it all in one post. Thanks for reading!
 

rk100

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Oops. I forgot two other good points!
1. Starlings emit a pleasing (to me) aroma from their nostrils and beaks that lies somewhere between amazon musk, nuts, and fritos.

2. They aren't dusty and only molt once per year or less depending on photoperiod.
 

Kile

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⦁ Starlings turn into vicious beasts with the rise of the moon. Just kidding, but seriously, it seems a species trait to become very moody when it gets dark and when they're trying to sleep. They become very vocally fussy, and bite, poke, and twist at anything that comes within reach. It varies from bird to bird, but I think most starlings get grouchy at bedtime.

⦁ They appear to have rather sensitive sinuses and don't deal well with dust. They seem prone to sneezing and nasal discharge and I believe frequent baths are important because of this, as well.
I’ve just found this post of yours a bit late but I’m glad that I read these two points because I was starting to worry there was something wrong with my starling! I am a new-ish starling owner (she just turned 1 recently) but I have noticed how she starts pecking and making noise at toys, various objects, my finger, and I have noticed even her feet on occasion, when it is dark and she is going to bed :banghead: I didn’t know that other starling owners also noticed this behavior and that is kind of relieving lol… I think they must not see extremely well in the dark as well as getting territorial over their “nest” resulting in the attack of the things around them :roflmao: On the note of the sneezing, I have noticed that too! I guess they do just have a bigger issue with dustiness.

A random note for anyone that is curious and likes to read because I enjoy to ramble: I noticed you mentioned the “perch potato” thing:arghh: I have had an issue with that and feel like I cannot provide enough stimulation for my own starling, but I have found a couple things that work and I will share them!

1. Shredding toys that are meant for hookbills I have noticed my starling actually likes. She likes to pull the colored paper strands out of the balls and such
2. Crinkled paper/wrappers (Not usually ones for food unless cleaned off) I set on the bottom of the cage are also popular- not sure about fabric- but she likes to shake it and poke holes in them
3. Anything small (big enough not to swallow) that can be picked up or rolled around! Theres some little balls made out of thin wood strips that you can order in packs that are often found on hookbill toys. I also have tried some hamster toys too! Or large hair ties.
4. Toys with holes/cracks and toys with balls/bells inside that cant be removed and swallowed
5. A jar or bowl of pebbles!!! This is a big one for me. This is popular and reusable because you can wash the jar and the rocks! My starling loves to pick up the rocks and carry them around and she will even bring me them. Could be a good training toy potentially?
6. I have heard washable foraging mats (usually for dogs) are great but I am yet to try it myself.
7. Last thing, I suggest trying the large bath box (I believe it is labelled for african greys) on amazon that can clip to the side of a cage. It still makes a mess but it is greatly reduced. Also is washable and since it hangs on the cage I can leave it for her to bathe in until it is time to rinse it out or clean it again.
 

Luckybird5

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Wow, I must be really lucky, my Starling prefers to eat the cat food dry!! I only crush it slightly. I feed her blue buffalo high protein catfood, and sprinkle calcium and avian vitamins on it a couple times a week. She was quite picky for a minute, and suddenly started to refuse to eat the soaked cat food I was giving her as a baby. Right around the time when she was learning how to feed herself she just would not eat the stuff anymore. I suspected it had something to do with messy beak, as it seems to REALLY bother her when she gets even the slightest bit of food on her beak, sends her into a wiping fit, lol. Still does it when she eats berries or lettuce, so one tiny half a raspberry will take her over an hour to eat, lol. She also started whistling simple tunes I taught her and talking around 3-4 months, although not super clear, it was recognizable to us. At 5 months her vocabulary exploded, she says new things every day now, clearly, and whistles more advanced stuff like mozart and beethoven. She loves hanging out with us, is very attentive, and fun to watch. Busiest bird I've seen, always bopping around playing with stuff and chatting.
 

Xoetix

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Wait wait wait.

Hold up.

There are COMPANION STARLINGS???

I require photos. And videos. I need to seeee :wideyed:
 

Shezbug

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Wait wait wait.

Hold up.

There are COMPANION STARLINGS???

I require photos. And videos. I need to seeee :wideyed:
This is an old thread and the OP has not visited AA since Jan 21 so I doubt you will get a reply or photos.
 

Xoetix

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This is an old thread and the OP has not visited AA since Jan 21 so I doubt you will get a reply or photos.
I did see it was older, but I was hoping @Luckybird5 might have some too :laugh:
 

jh81

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I have violet backed starlings, most of the above i reckon :)
 

StarMama

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This is an older thread, but it is the one that came up when I was searching for starling for information. I thought I would share a few pictures of (older), and experiences with my very bonded starling Ray Charles. He fell out of my horse barn rafters into the mud at 4 days old, on June 29 this year. He was a joy to raise, always having a good attitude, and is one of the ‘cuddly’ version of the bird. Ray loves to fly around, but returns to my body within a minute.

He is a Velcro bird, raised on the diet suggested on Starling Talk, sings almost all daylight hours, makes kissing sounds when my husband or I walk by, and is working on a few songs. I play jazz clarinet channels on Spotify for him, which will quiet him down, or he will sing along.

Next year he will get a large outside aviary built, for now he has a small indoor flight and a huge screen room at the farm. Due to his loads of poop it does make it less inviting as a social gathering spot.

I got him the largest parrot I could find, and he usually hops once every couple of hours. There is actually no mess at all with it. He’s trying to say “Ray’s a wet bird”, but it’s still garbled. Words come out right, or mostly right, some of the time. Generally, he says it when he’s wet, which is the only time I say it to him.

i do have an avian vet that will see him, but it requires a drive into Chicago. He is the first starling she has seen. When I originally found him he had a broken leg, in two places, and when I realized he was going to make it I found her and took him in. It was already healed, but he was unable to use any part of it at all. She gave me several PT excercises and massages to help him regain the use, otherwise possible amputation if it was getting injured. Within a month he was using it well, but his right leg is at an odd angle which limits him a bit.

Rambling,yes. In truth, I am owned by the bird. I have a lot of animals in my life, but he i more fun than others. Thank you for reading my rambling prose,
Lisa
 

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Emma&pico

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This is an older thread, but it is the one that came up when I was searching for starling for information. I thought I would share a few pictures of (older), and experiences with my very bonded starling Ray Charles. He fell out of my horse barn rafters into the mud at 4 days old, on June 29 this year. He was a joy to raise, always having a good attitude, and is one of the ‘cuddly’ version of the bird. Ray loves to fly around, but returns to my body within a minute.

He is a Velcro bird, raised on the diet suggested on Starling Talk, sings almost all daylight hours, makes kissing sounds when my husband or I walk by, and is working on a few songs. I play jazz clarinet channels on Spotify for him, which will quiet him down, or he will sing along.

Next year he will get a large outside aviary built, for now he has a small indoor flight and a huge screen room at the farm. Due to his loads of poop it does make it less inviting as a social gathering spot.

I got him the largest parrot I could find, and he usually hops once every couple of hours. There is actually no mess at all with it. He’s trying to say “Ray’s a wet bird”, but it’s still garbled. Words come out right, or mostly right, some of the time. Generally, he says it when he’s wet, which is the only time I say it to him.

i do have an avian vet that will see him, but it requires a drive into Chicago. He is the first starling she has seen. When I originally found him he had a broken leg, in two places, and when I realized he was going to make it I found her and took him in. It was already healed, but he was unable to use any part of it at all. She gave me several PT excercises and massages to help him regain the use, otherwise possible amputation if it was getting injured. Within a month he was using it well, but his right leg is at an odd angle which limits him a bit.

Rambling,yes. In truth, I am owned by the bird. I have a lot of animals in my life, but he i more fun than others. Thank you for reading my rambling prose,
Lisa
Wow what a lovely story
 

Shannan

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I don't think you are allowed to have starlings as pets in America. I would love to have a corvid myself but alas they are illegal here.
 

expressmailtome

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I don't think you are allowed to have starlings as pets in America. I would love to have a corvid myself but alas they are illegal here.
They are a non-native species, so they are not protected under the MBTA, but they are illegal in some states as they are considered an invasive species.
 
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