Native 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.
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!
Introduced 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.
Although 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.
Video: talking, singing Starling
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