Excerpts from:
Nebraska Cooperative Extension NCR 451

Starling Management
in Agriculture

Ron J. Johnson, Extension Wildlife Specialist, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
James F. Glahn, Research Biologist, USDA/APHIS/ADC, Mississippi Research Station, Mississippi State University
European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were brought to the United States from Europe. They were released in New York City in 1890 and 1891 and, since that time, have spread across the country. They were observed in the midwest by 1930, in Colorado in 1939, and in California in 1942. The starling population in the United States has since grown to an estimated 140 million birds.

Starlings are frequently considered pests because of the damage they cause, especially to agriculture and in urban roosts. This publication provides facts about starlings and methods to control their damage in agriculture.

Starling Facts

Adult Starling
Figure 1. Adult European starling (Sturnus vulgaris).
Identification - Starlings are black, light-speckled, robin-size birds with a chunky, meadowlark shape (Figure 1). The bill of both sexes is yellow during the reproductive cycle (January to June) and dark at other times. Juveniles are pale brown to grey. The tail is short, and the wings have a triangular shape when outstretched in flight. Starling flight is direct and swift, not rising and falling like many blackbirds.

Foods - Starlings eat various foods, including fruits and seeds of both wild and cultivated varieties. Insects, especially white grubs in lawns or pastures, and other invertebrates total about half the diet overall, and are especially important during the spring breeding season. Starlings also eat livestock rations and food found in garbage during the winter.

Movements - Although not always migratory, some will migrate up to several hundred miles. Others may remain in the same general area throughout the year. Outside the breeding season, starlings feed and roost in flocks. Each day, they may fly 15 to 30 or more miles from roosting to feeding sites. During winter, they roost in dense vegetation, such as coniferous trees, or in urban structures, farm buildings, and other areas protected from wind and weather. Some of these roosting areas are occupied by wintering starlings year after year.
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Economic Impact

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On the beneficial side, starlings eat insects and other invertebrate pests such as lawn or pasture grubs.

As trends move toward urban and rural sustainable landscapes, starlings and other birds may become more important in biological and integrated pest control systems.

Controlling Damage¹


Structures. Where starlings are a problem inside buildings or other structures, close all openings larger than one inch so they cannot enter (Figure 2). This is a permanent solution to problems inside the structure. Heavy plastic (PVC, polyvinyl chloride) or rubber strips hung in open doorways of farm buildings have been successful in keeping birds out, while allowing people, machinery, or livestock to enter (Figure 2). One installation approach is to hang 10-inch wide strips with about 2-inch gaps between them. Such strips might also protect feed bunkers. Where birds are roosting on a ledge, place a board or metal covering over the ledge at a 450 angle (Figure 3). Porcupine wires (metal protectors) are also available for preventing roosting on ledges or roof beams, and netting placed under roof beams will prevent roosting on the beams (Figure 4). Netting is also useful around buildings for covering window or other openings.

Fruit Crops. Netting is useful for covering fruit crops such as cherries or grapes to prevent bird damage, and studies show it to be a cost-effective method of protecting higher-value grapes in commercial vineyards. For wine grapes harvested one time per season, tractor-mounted rollers can facilitate installation and removal of netting draped directly over vines. Some New York vineyards have used this method for 5 years with the original netting still in good condition. For table grapes harvested by hand several times per year, a frame can be used to hold the netting above the vines so it doesnt interfere with the frequent harvests. A practical tip: if protecting the total vineyard is impractical, protect varieties that receive the most damage: those that ripen early or are otherwise highly attractive to birds (e.g. small, dark, sweet grapes).

Figure 2. Bird-proof buildings to permanently eliminate bird problems inside. Figure 3. A board or metal covering over a ledge at a 45° angle (a) or porcupine wires (b) can be used to prevent roosting and nesting. Figure 4. Netting can be used for excluding birds from building rafters and from fruit trees.

Cultural Methods and Habitat Modification

Starlings are attracted to livestock operations by the food or water available to them, especially during winter when the weather is cold and food scarce. Some livestock operations are more attractive to starlings than others. Operations with large quantities of feed always available, especially when located near a starling roost, are the most likely to have damage problems. Farm management practices are important in long-term starling control. These practices limit food and water available to starlings, thus making the livestock environment less attractive. The following practices used singly, or preferably in combination, will reduce feed losses and the chances of disease transmission as well as the cost and labor of conventional control measures:
Figure 5.
Use bird-proof facilities
to store grain.
Bird-proof livestock feeders such as these flip-top pig feeders limit starling access to the feed and reduce starling interaction with livestock.
Figure 6. Lower the water level in livestock waterers so starlings cannot reach it when perching on the edge. At the same time, keep the water level high enough that they cannot stand in it.
Propane exploders frighten starlings from many damage situations by producing a loud report at pre-determined intervals. For best results, exploders should be elevated above vegetation and the location and report interval changed regularly. Although these have been used successfully at some cattle feedlots, the loud noise may frighten some livestock.

  1. Clean up spilled grain.

  3. When storing grain, use bird-proof facilities (Figure 5).

  5. Use bird-proof livestock feeders. These include flip-top pig feeders, lick wheels for liquid cattle supplement, and automatic-release feeders (magnetic or electronic) for costly high-protein rations. Avoid feeding on the ground because this is an open invitation to starlings.

  7. Where possible, feed livestock in covered areas such as open sheds because these areas are less attractive to starlings.

  9. Use feed forms that starlings cannot swallow such as cubes or blocks greater than 1/2 inch in diameter. Minimize use of 3/16-inch pellets  starlings eat these six times faster than granular meal.

  11. When feeding protein supplements with other rations, such as silage, mix them well to limit starling access to the supplements.

  13. Where possible, adjust feeding schedules so that feed exposure to birds is minimized. For example, when feeding once per day, such as in a limited energy feeding program for gestating sows, delay the feeding until late in the afternoon when foraging by starlings is decreased. Feeding cattle at night, where appropriate, is another possibility. Starlings prefer to feed early to midday and in areas where feed is constantly available. Feeding schedules that take these factors into account reduce problems.

  15. Starlings are especially attracted to water. Drain or fill in unnecessary water pools around livestock operations. Where feasible, livestock waterers can be made unavailable or less attractive to starlings by controlling the water level. Lower the water level so that starlings cannot reach it when perching on the edge of the waterer. At the same time, keep the water level deep enough so they cannot stand in it (Figure 6).

  17. Modify starling roost sites by closing openings in buildings or other structures so starlings cannot enter.

Frightening is effective in dispersing starlings from roosts, small-scale fruit crops, and some other troublesome situations. It is useful around livestock operations that have warm climates year-round, and where major concentrations of wintering starlings exist. In the mid to northern states, starlings concentrate at livestock facilities primarily during cold winter months when snow covers natural food sources.

Frightening devices include recorded distress or alarm calls, gas-operated exploders, battery-operated alarms, pyrotechnics (e.g. shellcrackers, bird bombs), lights (for roosting sites at night), bright objects, and other noise makers. Beating on tin sheets or barrels with clubs also scares birds. Some novel visual frightening devices with potential effectiveness are eye-spot balloons, hawk kites, and mylar reflective tape. Ultrasonic (high frequency, above 20 kHz) sounds do not frighten starlings and most other birds because, like humans, they do not hear these sounds.

Harassing birds, throughout the evening as they land, can be effective in dispersing bird roosts if done for three to four consecutive evenings or until birds no longer return. Spraying birds with water from a hose or from sprinklers mounted in the roost trees has helped in some situations. A combination of several scare techniques used together works better than a single technique used alone. Varying the location, intensity, and types of scare devices improves their effectiveness.

Two additional tips for successful frightening efforts: 1 ) begin early before birds form a strong attachment to the site and 2) be persistent until the problem is solved.
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The wide-ranging movements of starlings, the time necessary to maintain and manage traps, and the number of starlings that can be captured compared to the total number in an area, often make trapping an impractical control method. ...


Shooting is more effective as a dispersal technique than as a way to reduce starling numbers. The number of starlings that can be killed by shooting is small in relation to the numbers of starlings usually involved in pest situations. ...

Toxicants - Starlicide Complete

Starlicide Complete (0.1% 3-chloro p-toluidine hydrochloride) is registered for controlling starlings and blackbirds around livestock and poultry operations. It is toxic to other types of birds in differing amounts....

  • Poisoned birds experience a slow... death. They usually die 24 to 36 hours after feeding, often at their roost. ...

  • .
      Cautions - Starlicide Complete is poisonous to chickens, turkeys, ducks, and some other birds. Never expose bait where poultry, livestock, or non-target wildlife can feed on it. ...

    Acknowledgements: We thank R. M. Timm for his participation in an earlier version of this guide, M. E. Tobin and G.R. White for technical advice, and M. M. Beck, R. M. Case, B.U. Constantine, L. E. Germer, J. A. Gosey, D. F. Mott, D. E. Reese, and A. R. Stickley for manuscript reviews. Art: Renee Lanik, UNL Graphic Designer.
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    ¹ Use of trade names does not imply endorsemnent.


    Electronic version issued August 1998
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    North Central Regional Extension Publications are subject to peer review and prepared as a part of the Cooperative Extension activities of the thirteen land-grant universities of the 12 North Central States, in cooperation with the Extension ServiceU.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. The following states cooperated in making this publication available: Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska*, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

    *Publishing State
    . . .
    Printed in Cooperation with the North Central Educational Materials Project.

    Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension Services of Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Kenneth R. Bolen, Director, Cooperative Extension, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583.

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