European Starlings: Population Control Methods
Notice: This page is an accumulation of a lifetime of experiences (both mine and others) and is not for those that do not understand the significance of dealing with vineyard pests. Therefore, the following information is not for the faint of heart, but for those that have some intellect, that want to do something about the vermin being exposed herein and are willing to take the appropriate steps.
The European Starling was introduced into North America in 1880, by an acclimatization society, headed by Eugene Schieffelin and sadly, the European Starling is here to stay.
Sadder still is the devastation that's been left in the wake of European Starlings as they continue to cut a swatch of destruction on crops, diseases passed onto livestock, on cavity nesting birds, and on commercial jet airliners that are struck by thousands of flocking European Starling (in the late summer and fall months) that get sucked into jet engines during takeoffs and landings threatening the lives of both passengers and people on the ground.
Yes, they are here in overwhelming numbers, and we only have ourselves to blame. People simply see European Starlings nesting in crevices or cavities in city builds, shopping malls or lamp poles and say to their sons and daughters, "Look at the cute birds nesting there" not knowing that they are looking at highly intelligent killers in the making. The vast majority of people are simple unaware, or can not even comprehend how destructive these introduced exotics are to our prosperity and to nature in general.
I know this sounds alarmist and harsh, but make no mistake about it, this is a war! Using falconry or sound generating machines (that imitate Starlings in distress) to scare the birds away and or expensive netting to keep them away from crops or building, is akin to applying a bandage to a gangrenous arm. These measures do nothing to remove the problem, they only move the problem to another location, so the infection continues to spread. Like weeds in a garden, European Starlings will continue to multiple until they either chock out the garden or are controlled by being pulled out by the roots!
As European Starlings continue to grow their unabated hordes, the costs incurred around the world by farming operations big or small will be nothing short of catastrophic. Moreover, their killing off of other cavity nesting birds with their aggressive nesting habits, will ultimately make the European Starling the dominate bird species.
Until a genetic approach can be developed and no matter how daunting the challenge, there is still hope. So lets take a closer look at the European Starling, and we will make an effort to expose their "Achilles heal", so we can bring there numbers down to manageable levels.
First we need to help make the public aware that European Starlings are found all over the planet, hence managing their numbers locally will not endanger the species in the least.
That European Starlings have plagued mankind from the beginning of man's earliest agricultural endeavors to the present.
That during the nesting season, the European Starlings aggressive, deadly cavity nesting tactics, poses a genuine threat to the preservation of other cavity nesting birds here in the USA and abroad.
Next we need to rethink our strategy for dealing with one of the most intelligent, prolific and successful birds on the planet. Buying expense netting for vineyards is by far the wrong way to deal with this pests, when there is a more effective and economical solution to this challenge.
Winter Time: European Starling at Their Weakest Level
We must fight this avian menace, by looking up stream where European Starlings populations are at their weakest level. European Starlings are not known to migrate to any significant degree, so if they can not find cover, many will simply die due to winter exposure and the survivors can be easily baited to Bait Stations (see Bait Station) or Traps (see products page) to be dispatched in turn.
Denying winter cover or roosting sites (i.e. crevices or cavities found in the eves of building, lamp posts and trees) will expose more European Starlings to winter weather killing them off to exposer, and the subsequent elimination of European Starlings with traps, pellet rifles, wrist rockets, and firearms will help reduce the European Starling breeding adults further, thus quelling the flood waters of breeding adults and fledgelings (babies that left nests that year) that will attack crops during the fall harvest time. The other benefit to the above actions is the reduced pressure that European Starling breeders pose to our native cavity nesting birds in the Spring nesting season.
Like using a hand pump to draw water from a well, you have to pump hard and fast to get the water up and out of the well, but once you have the water you no longer have to work as hard. Same thing applies to liquidating European Starlings, you will have to be very aggressive until you bring the populations down in your area, but once they are under control it's just a matter of maintenance.
Conclusion: Deny European Starlings places to roost or breed inside cities, towns, and farms (i.e. crevices or cavities found in the eves of building, lamp posts and trees) and continue to kill European Starlings in the winter and nesting seasons with traps and firearms. Doing so will in a few years reduce European Starling numbers to more manageable levels.
European Starling Identification
Lets start with European Starling identification, and you will need a good pair of binoculars for the methods described on this page.
If you have a set of binoculars then you're ready to go, if not buy a good quality pair of 7 x 35 binoculars. You can buy higher powered binoculars, but anything high will strain your eyes over a day long shoot.
For the experienced birder you can skip this section and move to the next, but for those that want to bone up or for those that have no idea of what a European Starling even looks like or how to sex the birds, please read the following for proper identification.
The European Starling belongs to the family Sturnidae, order Passeriformes. Sturnidae, are perching birds that number more than 111 species, including the Mynah. The European Starling can be described as a stocky, medium-sized black bird with a short tail. The tip of the tail just barely extends beyond the tips of the closed wings. In flight, the Starling has a distinctly triangular shape. The European Starling is about the same size as a Robin. The total length of the European Starling is about 8.5 inches (21.6 cm).
Summer plumage is a glossy black with iridescencent purple and green feathers that are tipped in white. The legs are a reddish color. The bill is tapered and conical, and is yellow-colored in the summer. Except for possible escaped exotic Mynah birds (common, crested, and hill Mynahs), the Starling is the only black-colored bird with a yellow bill found in the United States.
Winter plumage is black with light colored tips on the feathers. Both summer and winter plumage give the Starling a distinctly speckled appearance. The bill is dark brown in winter. Young Starlings have brown-grey feathers and a whitish throat. Juveniles are brown with a dark bill, and might be confused with female and juvenile blackbirds, except for their characteristically short tails. The tip of the tail just barely extends beyond the tips of the closed wings. In flight, the Starling has a distinctly triangular shape. A spot at the base of the bill provides the only color difference between the sexes; bluish in males, reddish in females. Females usually have a slightly more spotted appearance.
How to Tell the Sex of a Starling
According to the book STARLINGS AND MYNAS (Chris Feare and Adrian Craig, Princeton University Press 1999), female and male European Starlings can be distinguished by the following characteristics:
1. Eye color.
A male's eye color is uniformly dark, while a female has a lighter ring around the inner or outer margin of the iris. This ring may be cream, whitish, grayish, yellow, or light brown.
2. Color at the base of the beak.
Female and male starlings have a slightly different color at the base of the beak, a difference with is relatively easily visible in the yellow-beaked phase, visible only with close examination in the dark-beaked phase. Females have a pinkish tinge to the base of the beak, males a bluish tinge.
3. Feather color.
Spotting: Females have more spotting and larger spots on the breast. Although this is the easiest way to sex wild starlings, note that wild starlings of both sexes tend to lose their spotting through spring and summer, because of abrasion as they go in and out of nest holes, so this difference is relative.
Males have more iridescence on greater areas of the body. While both sexes have iridescence on the wings and back, males have more iridescence on the head, nape, throat, breast, rump, and under tail coverts.
Though any European Starling kill is acceptable and allowed by law (there are no Fish and Game laws that protect European Starlings), so you can use any means at your disposal to eliminate them from your area. This page is primarily dedicated to thumping European Starling breeders and you should thump them all year long.
However, we need to stay focused on what the primary target is: the females. Below is a scorecard that you can use to visualize which European Starlings are more important to take out of circulation.
European Starling Males: 2 points.
European Starling Fledgelings: 3 points.
European Starling females: 11 points!
For every European Starling female that you take out of breeding circulation, you have effectively removed 11 birds that year, as European Starling females generally lay 2 clutches each year and each clutch generally consists of 5 eggs each. Taking the female out removes 2 clutches so you have effectively scored 11 points.
I give the European Starling Fledgelings one point more that the European Starling Males, because you may thump a female fledgeling, but you would never really know as these are immature birds. No matter how you look at the European Starling Males, they are just pests, so thump them hard, but they are still only worth 2 points.
Conclusion: Identify and try to knock out the European Starling females first. The European Starling females are the ones that lay the eggs. No females, no eggs, no European Starlings. It's just that simple.
Choosing Your Weapons!
Now that you know what to look for lets talk about weapons! If you live inside city limits, then you are limited as to what type of weapons you can use, but if you live in the country, then just about any weapon will do. Traps are great (see traps on products page) no matter where you live, but you need to use other weapons in our war against this winged villain too.
First, it is absolutely illegal to discharge any firearm that uses powder charged propellents inside city limits. Doing so can get you into some serious hot water with the local constabulary (A.K.A. "The COPS")!
You may face heavy fines, plus jail time to boot if you use a firearm.
However, you can use air rifles (i.e. BB guns or pellet rifles) and wrist rockets are fantastic! If I had to pick any of the above it would have to be a pellet rifle, as I've seen BB bounce off of birds and some European Starlings can be pretty tough to knock down. However, I do like the wrist rocket because it makes no sound at all and it hits just as hard as any pellet rifle, but it takes allot of practice time to learn how to hit anything with it.
If the pellet rifle is for you, then drive to your local Wal Mart, as they have a good selection there. Let the clerk know what you need the pellet rifle for and regardless of caliber, I would recommend a pellet rifle that has a muzzle velocity of 900 f.p.s. or better (higher velocities help the pellet shoot straighter and kill cleanly.) Also do yourself a favor by investing in a telescopic sight (at lease 4x) so you can hit what you're aiming at and know your back stop when it's time to pull the trigger (more on this later.)
If you live in the country and your neighbors are not too close, then you can use a .22 or a shotgun. I have a .22 at the ready whenever I see a European Starling that can be taken safely and sometimes my shotgun when European Starlings are in flocks.
For the .22 rifle, I like to use CCI CB ammunition. The CCI .22 CB is a low velocity round (about the same muzzle velocity as a good quality pellet rifle will generate) and has a low report (low noise), so nobody hears the report. If you can use .22 long rifle safely then go for it, but the loud report will make the European Starlings wary of the area.
Never fire a .22 rifle into the air! This is a "Big No No!" as you never know where the bullet will land. Again know your back stop (i.e. tree trunks, walls, hillsides, or any hard surface) so your projectiles will stop. The last thing that you want to do is break a window, hit the neighbor's cat or worse.
In my opinion, shotguns are the best firearm for taking out European Starlings. Despite the loud report (BLAM...BLAM!!!), a shotgun can take out more than one bird, the shotgun shells are relatively cheap, shotguns have limited range, and the shot rains harmlessly back to the ground. Again know where the shot will rain down (usually 60 to 75 yards ahead of you), and though shot rain can be annoying, injury due to shot rain is virtually impossible (ask any duck hunter.) In my opinion, Winchester makes the best shotgun shells (for reloading), but any cheap low base shotgun shell will do. The shot loaded into these shells should be #7.5, #8 and or even #9 in 1 1/8 ounce shot loads. The higher the shot size number, the more shot you have in the shells to hit more European Starlings.
The shotgun I prefer is a good quality made double barreled 12 gauge chambered for inexpensive 2 3/4 inch shotgun shells (you can use 3 inch chambering, as it will chamber 2 3 /4 inch shotgun shells, but not the other way around.) I've used single barreled pump action and semi-auto action shotguns, but a side by side (like I have) or an over and under (the most common and preferred by most) are best because you have 2 built in chokes, one barrel has a Full Choke (tight shot pattern) and the other barrel in Modified Choke (wide shot pattern.)
For example, if you glass (use binoculars) a group of six European Starlings close together on a tree limb, you can drop the entire lot with your Modified Choked barrel, then as the remaining European Starlings in the tree fly off, you can get a quick second shot with your Full Choked barrel to drop a few more. Single barreled shotguns only have one choke, so if you have to go that way, pick a shotgun with a Modified Choke barrel for a wider shot pattern.
Here's another example of double barreled shotgun superiority. When dealing with flocks of European Starlings. Blast your European Starling flocks as they come up from the ground or fly over with the Modified choked barrel, then hit them again with the Full Choked barrel as they maneuver to get away from you and here is what you'll see.
When you first cut loose with your Modified Choked barrel, you may see some fall or you may see no effect at all on the flock as they fly off. However, the second Full Choked barrel shot will cut a swatch right through the flock and you will see 4 or as high as ten drop through the hole that you just cut through the flock. Now take a walk over the ground that the flock of European Starlings flew over.
On this walk you may see the delayed reaction of the first Modified Choked barrel shot made on the flock, as the ground will be littered with dead or dying European Starlings. You may also notice the following day a few dead European Starlings under your trees, as one pellet did the trick, but it just took a little longer to do the job.
Flock shooting is about the only technique where a single barreled pump action or semi-auto action loading shotgun with a Modified Choked barrel would do wonders. Cutting loose with all three rounds (or more) in the loading tube that those shotgun have coupled with a Modified Choked barrel would have European Starlings raining down in heaps.
A vineyard owner friend of mine uses several pump action or semi-auto action loading shotguns with a Modified Choked barrel and they knock down hundreds of European Starlings every year spending as much as $2,500.00 in shotgun shells annually! If he would use traps (I've been working on him and he's about to buy his first of many traps) too, he could cut his shotgun shell expenses expended during the harvest season and save on expensive netting as well.
For those using pellet rifles or wrist rockets you can take advantage of the European Starling high metabolic rates during the winter months as they constantly have to eat to keep warm. This is the best time to bait European Starlings, so you can pick them off from your bait stations.
European Starling Bait
Pick a location that allows you a convenient place to shoot safely (remember know your back stop) at the Bait Station and service the Bait Station with fresh bait. Once you've determined the location, hang your bait station from a tree limb or install a hanging post, so you can lure in the European Starlings to that location.
For a proven European Starling Bait that the European Starlings cannot resist, click HERE. You will see how to mix the European Starling Bait (this bait also works for V-TRAPS along with popcorn during the winter months) and there are some seed mixtures to lure European Starlings too.
Keith Kridler, who's everyone's favorite Bluebirder out of the great state of Texas, came up with a great method for the backyard European Starling hunter, so here we go.
Locate a window that has your bait station in full view, cover the outside of that window with clear plastic, open your window, arm yourself, sit down inside the room facing the window and get ready for action.
As the European Starlings land on the Bait Station to take their fill of the bait, pick off the European Starlings at the Bait Station by shooting through the clear plastic outside the window. The best part about this method is the report of the pellet rifle stays in the room with you, so the European Starlings can not hear the bang. Next, the clear plastic looks like a closed window to the European Starlings, so they have know idea where the shots are coming from.
As the hit European Starlings drop from the Bait Station, some may fan off, but like bees to honey they can not resist the European Starling bait, so they continue to return. In one days shoot you can pick off between 20 to 50 birds or more a day, and that's not a bad way to spend an afternoon and your local birds will thank you too.
Hunting from Blinds
For most of my European Starling eradication endeavors, I like to shoot European Starlings from a blind. I'm clothed in camouflage with the camouflage clothing washed with SPORT WASH and sprayed with UV KILLER (more on these great products below) and I'm armed with a .22 (shooting CCI CB ammunition) rifle, and my double barreled 12 ga. shotgun. I also have a good pair of binoculars with me, so I can recognize friend from foe and can sex the European Starling that I spot from the blind.
Remember, females are primary targets, males secondary.
First you need to locate a roosting tree that the European Starlings like hang out in, and set up your blind under that tree. My favorite blind is made out of bales of straw set up on top of pallets. You can use whatever looks natural, and covering your blind will camouflage netting is a plus, but always leave the blind set up all year long, so the European Starlings get use to it. Best time to set yourself up in your blind is 1 hour before dawn and 3 hours before sunset.
You can pick off single European Starlings with your pellet rifle (or .22 shooting CCI CB ammunition), but you shouldn't be too hasty about knocking off the single European Starlings either, as sometimes these single European Starlings act as scouts for the flocks.
I've seen single scouts come in, then fly off, returning with a couple more scouts, then they leave and all of a sudden a flock of European Starlings will return. Now go to work with your shotgun knocking down the groups that have landed with the Modified Choke and then the Full Choke as the remaining European Starlings try to get away.
You may also try shooting your double barreled shotgun in reversed order starting with a Full Choke to cut through dense foliage or to knock down European Starlings that are above a group that you are shooting at below as the shot will pass through the European Starlings below to hit those above, then use your Modified Choke to hit those that are trying to get away.
When shooting from a blind, you can shoot in the morning and shoot again in the evening (or the other way around), but your work is done when the European Starlings have not returned for a full hour or more. This is usually do to the warming morning hours (I usually stop around 10 AM) and in the evening when the European Starlings have roosted elsewhere for the night.
Camouflage clothing is a matter of taste. I like to have 2 sets of camouflage, one in green when the foliage is green and the other is desert camouflage when everything is yellow brown, plus the desert camouflage works great with the yellow brown straw in our blind.
A great source for camouflage is a company called BRIGADE QUARTERMASTER. For the desert camouflage I ordered from BRIGADE QUARTERMASTER, their Tiger Strip desert camouflage (I did have to wait 6 months though, as the Iraq war slowed the delivery.) You can order whatever you like from BRIGADE QUARTERMASTER on line from their website.
Sport Wash and UV Killer.
Even though you maybe camouflaged and in a blind, European Starlings can see in the UV spectrum, so they can see you glowing below them. Until I discovered Sport Wash and UV Killer, I've watched European Starlings react to my "UV glowing presence" for years moving just out of shotgun and rifle range.
All that changed when my "Mountain Man" buddy Marty Johannes, who left the Rockies for Dover Plains, New York, turned me onto Sport Wash and UV Killer.
Here is a quote from Cabela's about this fabulous product:
"All home laundry detergents contain U.V. brighteners that enhance the colors of your clothes. As a result, your camo clothing becomes more visible to game animals every time you wash it. Sport-Wash and U-V-Killer eliminate the brighteners from your clothes. First, wash clothes in biodegradable, scent-free Sport-Wash then spray on U-V-Killer."
Once I used Sport Wash and UV Killer on my camouflage clothing, I no longer had a problem with European Starlings spotting me in my blind, on my Two Men Make One hunts (more on that below) and or out on open road. To my astonishment, I've been able to walk on open roads using what available cover I could find to get with in shotgun range of European Starlings without them even knowing I was there.
I highly endorse this product. Simply by washing your camouflage clothing in Sport Wash and spraying same with UV Killer, you become the "Invisible Man" to European Starlings.
Order Sport Wash and UV Killer online directly from Cabela's. You'll be glad you did.
Two Men Make One
Two Men Make One, is a method that I developed that does away with blinds, and takes full advantage of European Starling roosting behavior. If you are by yourself, then stick to the above methods, but if you can find someone else to hunt with you, then this a great way to knock off European Starlings for most of the day light hours, and is loads of fun for 2 hunters.
You use the same equipment as you would use for Hunting from Blinds, but now there is no need to use a blind. This method only works with 2 hunters and large open properties (i.e. vineyards or ranch land) and you should have a walky-talky system, so you can communicate with your hunting partner.
Walk towards the European Starling roosting tree in single file (very important), and let the European Starlings see you. Once they spot you and perceive you as a threat, the European Starlings will fly off to a safer area, but they will still keep an eye on you from a safe distance.
Now one partner takes cover under the roosting tree using what available cover he or she can find, while the other partner takes a walk away from the roosting tree around the vineyards or ranch land.
Now here is the fun part!!!
Birds can't count! Wow!
Because both hunters walked towards the European Starlings in single file, the European Starlings only saw a single man. Then they saw a single man walk away from their favorite roosting tree, so they believe that all is clear and safe to return to their favorite roosting tree, unaware that there is an ambush waiting for them under their roosting tree ready to cut loose. BLAM BLAM !!! You'll be knocking down European Starlings left and right for a while and they will not even know what is happening to them. However, there will be a point when they feel the area is unsafe and will not return.
The next part is even better!!!
During this lull and to pick things up again, you should call your partner back to the roosting tree with your walky-talky system. When your partner returns, you simply exchange places, and now it's your partners turn to do the shooting while you take a long walk.
The European Starlings now see a single hunter come and then leave their roosting tree again, they perceive that the treat is no longer present and will return again to be nailed all over again...BLAM BLAM !!!
Now it gets even better!!!
You can keep this up for hours until you've had enough or until you've depleted all the European Starlings in that given area. Wow!
Well, I hope the above helps and of course I'm always working on new methods for knocking these vermin into the underworld, so please bookmark our web site as there will bound to be more information in the future.
Happy and Safe Hunting!!!
Wild Wing Company, would like to thank the following contributors to the development of this web page.
Without their contributions the information found on this web page would be limited.
Much thanks to Nina Field, owner of Field Vineyards, of Cotati, CA, for opening her vineyards to our research and development. Thanks to my friend and raptor consultant Sandy Etchell, of Santa Rosa, CA, who got me hooked on cavity nesting birds, and thanks to my long time friend and business partner Robert Garrett, of San Francisco, CA, who has helped Wild Wing Company grow over the years and has knocked down his fair share of Starlings to boot. Without these great people in my life Wild Wing Company would never have been achieved.
A hearty thanks goes to my pals Laura Breyer, IMP Contractor, of Sebastopol, CA, Marty Johannes, of Dover Plains, NY, to Jerry Boesel, Mendocino County Department Head, of the California Department of Fish and Game, CA, and to Laura Mendez, IPM Instructor, at Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa CA, who has allowed me to further educate her students on the practical approaches to IMP.
Thanks also to Keith Kridler, of Mt. Pleasant, Texas, Larry A Broadbent, of Chatham, ON Canada,
Wendell Long, of Waynesville, OH, and Joe Huber, of Venice, FL,
Additional thanks to Cornell University, Ornithology Department, to the North American Bluebird Society, to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, to Cabela's Outfitters, and to Chris Feare and Adrian Craig, whose book Starlings and Mynes was very helpful.