- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding species and permanent resident. The European Starling was an abundant species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Global in distribution, the European Starling now occurs throughout North America, from southeastern Alaska east to northern Quebec and Labrador and south throughout the United States. Breeding concentrations are highest in the north-central United States (Figure 1).
Introduced to North America in the late 1800s, this non-native species is not a conservation concern. It causes damage to agricultural crops, poses safety concerns at airports, and aggressively outcompetes many native species for nesting cavities.
Although the European Starling is largely considered a sedentary, permanent resident, many of the birds do migrate. This is particularly true of more northerly populations, including those in the Great Lakes region and the Midwest. The migratory movements of the species have not been well studied.
Omnivorous, foraging in open areas such as lawns in urban spaces and pastures in agricultural regions; considered an economic pest.
An adaptable cavity nester; potential sites include former woodpecker cavities, natural cavities, cliffs, burrows, nest boxes, and anything resembling a hole or cavity in any building or structure.
The year 1929 marked the first recorded presence of the European Starling in Minnesota, nearly 40 years following the successful introduction of the species to North America (Roberts 1932; Bent 1950). The European Starling has been considered a pesky invasive species for so long that often little thought is given to its rather remarkable story. In the early 1900s, many ornithologists were fully engaged in detailing the species’ rapid spread across North America, including its precise rate of travel, its directional movements, and the expansion of breeding populations in each newly established locality. As Bent noted in 1950, “The literature of American ornithology is flooded with references to its spectacular progress.”
A common species throughout Eurasia, attempts to introduce it to North America began as early as 1872. At least six attempts were made in cities across the country, each successively failing before the species took hold in New York City’s Central Park. Implemented by a group of Shakespeare enthusiasts who were committed to having each species the playwright ever mentioned in his plays present in North America, a total of 100 starlings were released over a period of two years from 1890 to 1891 (Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2016). The rest is history. By 1916, the European Starling ranged from southern Maine to Virginia; by 1931 it had been sighted at Churchill, Manitoba, and by 1942 the first flock was reported in California (Bent 1950).
When Roberts (1932) wrote the first comprehensive account of the species in Minnesota, the European Starling had just reached the southeastern corner of the state. The first report was submitted by an observer in 1931 who wrote:
A whole colony of these birds was found in a cupola of a barn on a farm in the eastern part of Fillmore County. The people who own the barn have been observing these birds for at least two years.
By 1933, a flock of 22 birds was observed just south of Minneapolis, and 3 birds were seen near Sturgeon Lake in Pine County (Morse 1933); by 1936, several nests were reported in St. Louis County (Thompson 1936). In his revision of The Birds of Minnesota, Roberts (1936) wrote:
During the last four years the Starling has spread throughout Minnesota and westward into the Dakotas. It is nowhere as abundant, as yet, as farther east, but since it is now well established and nesting regularly, it will not be long before it will be an all too familiar bird about our cities and towns.
Roberts’s prediction proved all too true. Forty years later, Green and Janssen (1975) noted that the species was already statewide in distribution by the end of the 1930s, although its abundance did not surge until the 1940s. Most common in Minnesota’s open farm country, the species had even been reported in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Janssen (1987) included a statewide distribution map that identified 34 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added 9 more counties to the list.
During the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, participants reported a total of 4,055 European Starling records from 46.5% (2,252/4,844) of the surveyed atlas blocks and from 59.5% (1,390/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was confirmed in 1,026 (21.2%) blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). Widely distributed across the state, the species was least common in north-central and northeastern Minnesota. Regardless, it was reported from all 87 Minnesota counties and was confirmed nesting in all but 1 county, Lake of the Woods. Overall, the European Starling was the thirtieth most commonly reported species during the atlas and ranked ninth in terms of confirmed nesting reports.
The MNBBA predicted breeding distribution map predicted moderate breeding densities to occur throughout the settled and agricultural regions of southern and western Minnesota (Figure 4). The species was predicted to be absent or present in low breeding densities throughout much of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, with the exception of settled and developed areas such as Duluth, Brainerd, Bemidji, International Falls, and the Iron Range. The area of predicted abundance in northern Cook County is the site of the 2007 Ham Lake fire on the north end of the Gunflint Trail.
Since the species’ rapid spread across North America in the early 1900s, local populations have fluctuated in abundance, but the species’ overall distribution has remained relatively unchanged. Yet in his comprehensive review of the species, Cabe (1993) noted that it may still be expanding slowly along the northern and southern peripheries of its breeding range.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.