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European Starlings as Pets

European StarlingNative North American birds are protected by federal law and may not be kept as pets in the USA. However, introduced species are not covered by this prohibition. The European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, one of our most common exotic birds, makes a most interesting pet. As responsive and intelligent as any parrot (and able to mimic words as well), Starlings are not for everyone…but in the right hands they have few equals.

An Interesting Alternative to Typical Pet Birds

Northern Cardinals, Painted Buntings and several otherUSnatives are popular in private collections in Europe, but are not legal to possess in theUSA.  However, the unprotected European Starling offers a great opportunity to work with a species that is very different from most available in the pet trade.  Without fail, it becomes more “pet” than “cage bird”.  Please check your state’s laws before considering a Starling, as permits may be required.

Unexpected Talents

I first became aware of the Starling’s pet potential while visiting the AmericanMuseumof Natural History as a boy.  While peering into a terrarium in small room that housed live exhibits, I was startled by a flurry of words that seemed to come from a bird. But there was no parrot in sight, only a glossy, pert Starling that occupied a huge cage across the room. Walking towards him, I was greeted by a cheerful “Hello”. 

It turns out that European Starlings are in the same family (Sturnidae) as that famous mimic the Indian Hill Myna, and are very adept at learning words and sounds. A number of other relatives are popular in zoos and private collections; two of my favorites are the Glossy Starling and the Violet-Backed Starling (Please see article below).

An Amazing Colonizer

The European Starling has an interesting history in the USA. Eugene Schiffelin, a Shakespeare fanatic, was intent on establishing all birds mentioned in the great playwright’s works here in the USA. In 1890-91 he and released 60-100 European Starlings in Central Park. By 1950, Starlings were established from coast to coast and from southern Canada to northern Mexico…all, apparently, descended from Schiffelin’s original birds!

Violet backed StarlingIntroduced Starlings have wrought ecological havoc here and elsewhere. They are hole nesters, and far more aggressive than Bluebirds, Woodpeckers and many other species that need similar breeding sites. Nest holes are a rare commodity, and by commandeering them (and eating eggs), Starlings have placed several native species at risk.  Despite their Latin name – vulgaris – Starlings were much valued by European farmers for their insect-eating ways.

Is a Starling for You?

Most pet Starlings start out as youngsters that have fallen from the nest. If you find such a bird, it’s important to bear in mind that a hand-raised Starling cannot be released, may live over 20 years, and needs much more room than most folks can supply. Referral to a wildlife rehabilitator is usually the best option.


Hand-reared Starlings bond strongly to people, and need a good deal of attention. Daily out-of-cage time is essential. They may be housed in a very large parrot cage, but an aviary or modified room is preferable.

Tame Starlings are best kept in an area where they can observe the goings-on of people…they seem to take an interest in everything from TV’s to phone conversations. Toys, leaves to shred and similar distractions are absolutely essential.


Violet backed StarlingAlthough extremely adaptable, Starlings are largely carnivorous, with the bulk of the natural diet being insects. Small lizards, frogs and bird eggs are also taken, and they gorge upon certain fruits when available. Captives will refuse little, but a carefully-monitored diet is essential for their long-term well-being.

A mix of soaked dog chow, chicken layer mash and Softbill Pellets works well as a base diet. Live and canned insects, cooked meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables should be provided on a regular basis. Please write in for more details on their care and breeding.



Further Reading

Video: talking, singing Starling

Starling Central: captive care

Starlings Know When they are Being Watched

Violet-Backed Starling Care

European Starling image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by PaulLomax
Violet backed Starling and Glossy Starling images referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Doug Janson


  1. avatar

    Thanks for writing this! I have had 2 starlings for 6 years. They talk and sing and bathe in the bathtub every day. I raised them after they were going to be euthanized at a wild bird rescue. Because of the overpopulation they are not always rehabilitated as other birds. One year my birds build a nest out of trash and laid two eggs. Starlings are a real challenge to care for as they are messy eaters and very needy. I wonder if they are being bred in captivity?

  2. avatar

    Hello April, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the kind words and your interesting observations; glad to hear of your success. True, they are not easy pets…thanks for the feeding reminder – I should have mentioned they their eating habits resemble a food fight between a group of toddlers!

    Recently I ran across a commercial softbill breeder (Calif?) who was offering hand-raised youngsters ($300 or so!); first time I’d seen that. I and former co-workers bred them years ago as a “test species” for some rare SE Asian relatives.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Thank you Frank for this wonderful article and to April for taking in the 2 Starlings. I really like Starlings and they are always welcome at my bird feeders.

  4. avatar

    Hello Melissa, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. I look forward to any observations or comments you might like to post in the future.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Thank you so much, Frank, for responding to my emails about my dilemma with the starling I rescued. Your input helped me to decide to try the Rehab Center one more time. When I called the last time I was told that they would take the young starling that I had hand raised and would attempt to release it with other starlings. If they feel he is too tame, they will place him in a home with a staff member that already has a pet starling.
    Starlings are wonderful birds and would make a great pet. But, their person has to have plenty of time and space. They are attached to people and want lots of attention. Mine, Chirpee, would actually peck get mad when I had to leave the room. They are very vocal!! Anyway, I really miss the little fellow, but I feel like I’ve given him a chance to be wild, which is what I intended when I found him abandoned.
    I’ll let everyone know his fate when the Center lets me know.

  6. avatar

    Hi Betsy,

    Nice to hear from you; thanks so much for related your most interesting experience. I think you’ve made the best choice, although I know it was difficult. There’s a good chance the starling will adapt be releasable in time. They are the very definition of adaptability…after all, every individual in the continental US, Canada and Mexico likely sprang from a small group released in Central Park years ago! If the bird cannot be released, then a situation where contact with another would be ideal; they are quite social and very active; few people have the time, space and ability to keep a single bird occupied for their quite long lifespan.

    Please keep me posted, Best, Frank

  7. avatar

    Wanted to let you know that the starling is doing very well at the Wildlife Center!!! He apparently bonded to me and not people in general as he doesn’t want to be handled. He is eating on his own and associating with other starlings. The center director feels he will be successfully released in a couple of weeks. Thank you Frank!!!

  8. avatar

    Hi Besy,

    Thanks very much for letting me know…nice to have some good news! I’ll pass along your experiences to others, pl keep me posted, Best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Thank you so much for this article! I rescued my European Starling about 2 years ago. I had found her in the parking lot of my work when she was about a week old. I tried to get the conservation center to rescue her, but as soon as they identified her as an European Starling they told me to put her back or humanely euthanize her since she was an invasive species. I knew then that I had a new friend. She is such a great pet and very vocal. She hasn’t started to talk yet, but she mimics my whistling patterns all the time! I hope more people read your article and realize how great European Starlings can be as pets and make them no longer look at them as just pests!

  10. avatar

    Hi Emily,

    Thanks so much for the kind words. They really are remarkable birds, glad you are discovering that. Unfortunately, they have displaced a number of native species (esp. those that require tree cavities and similar situations as nesting sites) so rehabbers etc. are not encouraged to work with them. Within their native range, they are often held in high regard due to their capacity for controlling injurious insects (there’s a statue somewhere, “thanking ” them for averting a crop disaster after a locust infestation) bit are considered crop pests in some regions as well.

    Enjoy and please keep me posted, would be great to have updates to share with others, Best., Frank

  11. avatar

    I’ve observed a European Starling flock eat Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs. That should earn them some respect!

  12. avatar

    That’s news to me…thanks for that info! Nest boxes have been erected in parts of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to encourage them, due to their appetite for insect pests.nd they are credited for halting locust plagues in some areas..

    Best, Frank

  13. avatar

    I have 2 beautiful pet starlings in a large outdoor aviary in southern Louisiana. They came from to different cities. I handraised the female and received the male from another individual that realized he was too tame to release. I am really nervous right now because they have a nest full of eggs. They had a small clutch early in the season but rats got into the aviary and destroyed they eggs. We have since made modifications to prevent this from happening again. We are most worried that starlings raised in captivity will not know how to care for their babies. They are extremely bright so hopefully will do well. Planning on keeping a large bin of crickets in the aviary once the babies come to supplement their kitten food and wild catches. It always amazes me how when people try to get animals to breed, they won’t; however, left to their own devices, they will.

  14. avatar

    Hi Janette,

    Thanks for your input. Hand-raised birds of many species often refuse to pair-up, do not come into breeding condition, etc. The fact that they have mated and nested is a good sign; chick rearing is likely largely instinctual, so they should be fine. crickets and other insects, perhaps hard-boiled eggs, are essential when the chicks hatch. Good luck and please keep me posted, best, Frank

  15. avatar

    Hi I rescued a baby starling almost a month ago and plan on keeping him.he likes to sit on my hand but hates to be touched.any advice to get past this so I can interact with him more without frightening him.hes my first starling as vets and wildlife centres didn’t want anything to do with him.

  16. avatar

    Hi Bianca,

    Sounds like you are doing well with him. Most wild birds instinctively shy away from being grabbed or touched, even after many years in captivity. He’ll become more accustomed to you over time, but will likely not tolerate much touching, handling etc..best to go with what the bird seems comfortable with, as there’s no way to overcome certain instincts. Enjoy and please keep me posted. Best wishes for the new year, Frank

  17. avatar

    Thanks frank much appreciated just wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong to cause his shyness.happy new year and god bless

  18. avatar

    Thanks for the kind words, Bianca. Enjoy and let me know if you need anything, Frank

  19. avatar

    There is one other thing I’d like to ask ur advice on.ive noticed my starling is missing some feathers on his head not much but you can see some pink skin do you have any thoughts on what this could be as I’m a bit worried?

  20. avatar

    Hi Bianca,

    Tough to diagnose w/o a vet exam; lice, mites and various skin ailments can cause feather loss, but with such you generally see patches in several areas. Watch the bird w/o letting him know you are doing so (not easy…they are very observant!)…you may see him rubbing that area on bars etc. while moving about. Best, Frank

  21. avatar

    It’s just on his head and yeah he uses his leg to scratch it.ive tried to find a vet near me but no one will look at him

  22. avatar

    Yeah he seems to be scratching at the spot with his foot but no where else.ive tried to find a vet near me but no one will look at him

  23. avatar

    Wildlife rehabbers often know vets who treat wild birds; try this list, or try searching under bird rehabilitators, wildlife rehabilitators in your state; even if not close, any in area may be able to refer you to another, as it’s a fairly limited specialty, best,. Frank

  24. avatar

    He seems to be scratching his head with his foot but no where else

  25. avatar

    Sorry it’s posted the comment like 3 times

  26. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    We have a pet starling that we raised and have had over a year. In the past two days he’s become lethargic and keeps dozing off to sleep. He had a recent feather loss around his head. It’s been extremely hot so I brought his cage indoors. He’s just not his happy gregarious self. Any advice would be welcomed!

  27. avatar

    Hi Judy,

    They are pretty resilient as to heat, and lethargy wouldn’t be the first sign of heat stress. You’ll need to have it examined by a vet…stools samples etc, as those symptoms are common to a wide range of underlying conditions. Please keep me posted, best, frank

  28. avatar

    Hi. I came across your article while researching pet starling information to give to the judge who denied my request to give me back the disabled starling I raised as a featherless baby. Do you think you could help me in anyway? I live in Pennsylvania and someone turned me in for having him. The game commission came in while I wasn’t home with a search warrant and took my disabled starling on June 19th. I’ve been fighting with lawmakers and now this judge ever since. I am heartbroken.

  29. avatar

    Hello Sherry,

    Sorry to hear about your troubles. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done, assuming PA prohibits keeping starlings. They are not protected federally, but state laws vary. Usually, the laws are clear, but if not it would be best to speak with a local attorney, just to get an interpretation of the law. Obtaining a rehabilitator’s license would enable you to work with certain species in the future, if you have an interest, Sorry I could not be of more help, best, Frank

  30. avatar

    Thank you Frank. We had a lawyer who filed an emergency petition to have him returned to me, but the judge denied it. Our lawyer said that the best thing to do now is to hound the lawmakers with emails and phone calls to get them to change the judge’s mind.

    One of the things is that the game commission will not allow me to get a license now, plus it takes over 2 years and a lot of money to get one.

    The laws in PA are written so that they are interpreted anyway the lawmakers deem since it is usually the lawmakers who constantly break them, such as they do with pigeon shoots. When Wiggles was given to me, I scoured over the laws pertaining to starlings. Our lawyer has even scoured over the laws and there is nothing that says starlings are illegal to posses in PA. It does state that you cannot rehab and then release one without a permit.

    It also says that you cannot possess wildlife, which in most states is the case. But, most states don’t classify starlings as wildlife. Or sparrows or pigeons. In Pennsylvania it says you cannot possess wildlife in any form whether living or dead, except for fossils, and you can’t have any food from that animal whether it has been processed or not.

    OK, so that means no stuffed mounted deer head in your den. It also means no deer meat in your freezer or deer jerky in your cupboard. Now, it doesn’t state that you may possess these things with a permit, it just says no wildlife can be possessed whether living or dead or any product of such wildlife (feathers, hides, etc).

    So, why can’t I have a starling if Joe Blow down the road can have a deer head on his wall and eat deer meat every day?

  31. avatar


    Yes, many state laws are similar…generally not much interest in revising etc., not much effect on local economy, etc. Rehab permits are generally easier and quicker to obtain than you describe, but I’m not familiar with PA law…won’t help now, but perhaps worth looking into a bit more for future reference, best, frank

  32. avatar

    Can you please provide actual statistical proof or any validity to the statement that starlings are displacing native species? Their numbers are plummeting in Europe. As a biologist, I always believe claims should be backed up with sound facts.

  33. avatar


    Thanks for your interest. Starlings have been established in N America for over 100 years, and their effects on native species have been well-documented. A search of any major ornithology journal, i.e. The Auk, will provide you with references. Best, Frank

  34. avatar

    hi i need some advice i have been hand feeding a european starling for a week now hes doing fine eating well but i have checked his eyes or where they should be and he dosent have any its just bald skin, iam thinking that i will have to clip his wings to stop him flying can you advise many thanks anne

  35. avatar


    best to have feather clipping done by a vet or experienced bird owner…easy enough to learn by watching, but you can cyt blood feathers etc if not experienced. Eyes should be checked by a vet as well, best, frank

  36. avatar

    Hello, I am raising a baby starling he is a month old now what is a good based adult food diet for one? I am always scared to try new things with him. He has eaten apples and bananas and is pecking at seed but doesn’t have it quite down yet and I am still hand feeding him. Is there a book of some kind you prefer any and all information would be helpful! Thank yo so much

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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