European Starling

As their common name indicates, European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are not native to North America. They were introduced in New York City's Central Park in 1890 and have now spread throughout most of North America.

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

With its yellow bill and iridescent black head and body, this European Starling is already in breeding plumage. European Starlings in winter plumage have black bills and are heavily spotted with white.

European Starlings nest in cavities, and these aggressive birds compete with native cavity-nesters like woodpeckers for nesting sites. When I lived in Virginia, a pair of European Starlings decided to nest in a hollow dead tree limb in my backyard. For some unknown reason, this pair of starlings decided that cigarettes were the ideal nest material. My neighbor was a heavy smoker and there were cigarette butts scattered all over his backyard. The starlings diligently collected the scattered cigarette butts and stuffed them into their nesting cavity.

Clutching their unorthodox nesting materials, the busy starlings would often fly up and perch on my deck railing for a quick look around before flying all the way up to their nesting cavity high in the tree. I would look outside and see them perched there on the railing, and with their glossy black plumage like slicked back hair and cigarettes dangling out of their mouths, they looked like avian versions of 1950s delinquents.

The cigarette nest ended up being a failure (what a surprise) because the starling pair had stuffed the cavity so full of cigarettes, raising the nest level too high, that when a raiding party of American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) came by, the crows were able to reach the nest and carry off the nestlings. After their cigarette nest was raided, the European Starlings wisely abandoned it. I wonder what some future homeowners will think when they cut down that dead branch so high up in the tree and a huge pile of cigarettes falls out of it.