An Unwelcome Success

The European Starling in America


An Unwelcome Success: The European Starling in America is the story of the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), a bird species introduced to United States during the springs of 1890 and 1891 by the Acclimatization Society of America in New York City. The film covers all aspects of the Starling including the history in the United States, behavior in the wild, current research on the bird with emphasis on the bird's cognition, intelligence and mimicry abilities, the bird as a captive pet with anecdotal segments as well as its bad reputation as an invasive, non-native species. The story is woven as a tapestry of interviews with researchers, bird rehabilitators, bird watchers, pet owners, those with casual encounters with the bird as well as footage of the bird taken in the wild and in captivity. The life cycle of the Starling is illustrated throughout the film. The evolutionary prowess of the bird is emphasized along with its intelligence as well as its impact on humans, both good and bad. The overall philosophy of the film is to present the Starling as the amazing creature of adaption it has proven itself to be in America.

Sturnus vulgaris

The European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a member of the perching song bird order Passeriformes. It is Juvenile starlings bathingnative to Europe and Asia, and believed to have evolved in Asia. The bird is non-native to the United States but was introduced here in 1890. It has become incredibly successful much to the consternation of many people. The bird is an omnivore, intelligent and highly adaptable, all qualities that contribute to its success in the “new world”. One little known fact is its ability to mimic sounds in its environment, including other birds, mechanical sounds and human speech. This ability has earned it the nickname “poor man’s Myna bird.” In the winter months, the bird often roosts and feeds in huge groups, often numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands. It often roosts and feeds with other birds, including the Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackel and Brown-headed Cowbird. The bird does well in captivity and is one of the few song birds in the United States that can legally be kept as a pet. The bird is highly social and will interact quite readily with its owner.

Why Unwelcome success?

The starling is a non-native species to the United States. It was introduced artificially. It has been incredibly successful here. It is estimated that roughly one third of the world population of European Starlings are in the continental US. When you think about it, this success is phenomenal considering the starling has been around some 20+ million years. Starlings have two "bad habits" we've identified during the filming of this documentary that makes them despised, maybe even hated by many. First, they can be incredibly clever, as well as assertive, pushing other native birds from the feeders and nestboxes in many a bird-lover's backyard. The bird-lover's frustration with the starling is understandable to an extent, but frankly much is the bird-lover's fault. To discourage the starling, you must understand it. Starling SingingIf you don't want them in your backyard, then don't do the things that attract them. Honestly, they like the same things we do as humans, and they are tenacious as we humans are as well. We want to celebrate them with this film, rather than promote the hatred of them as many have done over the years. Second, starlings gather frequently in very large numbers, mostly during the fall and winter. They can create a mess with their excrement and the noise can be annoying at times. This is not really a solveable problem, according to the research we've done. This is what they do and they do it well. They have been doing this for millions of years, much longer than we've existed on this earth. This is also what other native birds to, including the Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird and Purple Martin, to name a few, but unlike the starling, these birds are protected by federal law. The European Starling is here to stay, that is for sure. One would do well to accept them as an immigrant and embrace their amazing ways. We hope "An Unwelcome Success" will change some minds from "unwelcome" to "welcome", at least a little bit. It certainly changed our mind filming and observing these remarkable creatures.


Starlings and Humankind

Starlings have been associated with man since antiquity. The Druids held starlings as sacred. Some researchers even think the portals in the tops of Stonehenge were deliberately put in to accomodate starling nests!