Adult European Starling nutritional requirements are 33.1% protein and 12.1% fat. A baby starling bird has even higher protein needs.[Read more…]
European Starlings tend to get a undeserved bad reputation. People consider them messy and annoying, and in part it’s true: They tend to be aggressive in defending their territory, in large groups they leave a lot of droppings and a flock of starlings can pick a berry fruit tree dry in an instant.
Why, then, do we love starlings so? Starlings are adaptable, adorned with beautiful colors and incredible mimics. Anyone who has hand-raised a starling can attest to the unexpected voices coming from its cage many months after hatching. They are fiercely loyal creatures, demanding both their independence and their ownership of anything they consider “mine” (hint: Just about anything they can get their beak on). Finally, from an environmental standpoint, they’re effective pest exterminators; many of the government publications on starlings attest to this singular ability to far outweigh any negatives. Those who want to get rid of them should be asking the question, “Yes, but how would this affect the local ecology?” Regardless, I digress…
When our beloved pet starling passed away, we decided that it would be a nice memorial to have some starling visitors in the yard for the summer. We do this every year in January to allow for time for the neighborhood starlings to find, claim and use their newfound nest. In order to do this, we had to figure out the best way to make a nest that would be of interest to these little darlings. At the same time, we’re constantly saddened by the number of websites dedicated to the entrapment (and subsequent extermination) of European Starlings. We simply decided to take things half-way: Built the nest, minus the trap.
Materials & Tools Needed
- Cedar board measuring at least 7 feet x 7.5 inches x 3/4 inches
- Box of screws suitable for exterior use
- Cutting tool (bench saw, etc)
- 2″ hole saw that fits the drill
- Measuring tape
- Straight edge (L-shaped ruler, etc)
You’ll be able to build your nest from a single board. While we use cedar to make it more “weather-proof”, chances are you’ll need to replace the nest each year (starling nests tend to be messy). If you decide to paint your nest (for enhanced weatherization), you’ll be disappointed for two reasons. First, the nest will need to be disposed of each year (see below).
Second, if you do this to make it weather-proof, any seal you make will actually increase the rot and mildew that can accumulate from the inside (via bird droppings). If you must paint the nest, make certain to only paint the outside, making sure that the entrance hole will look dark from the outside (very good for attracting the birds). Divide your board up using the following height measurements and cut using your instrument of choice. Once done, you’ll have six sections with one left-over piece.
One adjustment that your starling visitors will love is making the bottom panel just as long as the top (14″) instead of 11.75″; this way, they’ll have something to perch on that’s a bit sturdier than a round dowel/peg, and you’ll get to see the starlings sit outside of their nest more often.
Measurement Note: Most boards don’t measure exactly 7.5″ wide. I haven’t the foggiest idea why. Chances are your board will measure something like 7 & 3/8″ wide. As such, this will affect your measurements for how tall to cut the front and back sides, otherwise you’ll end up with a gap on top of both sides. Granted, it’s progressive, but I’ll bet that most starlings would prefer weatherized lodging accommodations rather than a fancy side-skylight. So, here’s the (more accurate than the picture) table you should use for your measurements:
|Bottom & Top Panels||14″||7-3/8″|
|Front & Back Panels||7-3/8″||7-3/8″|
The measurements listed above as 7 3/8″ are the variable ones; if the width of your board is something strange like 7.75″, make sure to adjust those numbers to match. Otherwise, you’ll have that odd gap mentioned above. After you’ve cut out the sections of the board, drill a 2″ hole on the front panel.
The center of the hole should be 2″ from the top. Don’t use anything smaller, otherwise starlings won’t be able to enter the nest. Drill three holes on the right side of the front panel and prep three screws. You’ll need to make sure to place the right side panel underneath in order to drill it as well.
Once you’re done, you’ll have one side of the nest in the shape of an “L”. This part is intended to be removable, so we won’t be drilling any more holes into it whatsoever. Now, do the same to the left and back panel, making the opposite “L” shape. Since the left/back panel pair is not removable, go ahead and secure it to the bottom board, pre-drilling the holes to avoid splitting the wood. You should now have two functional parts of the nest.
Add and secure the top panel, making sure that the extra length extends past the front of the nest. Use the front/right panel to help steady the roof as you attach it, making sure not to secure this bit as well. When you’re done, you should have two fully functional parts of the nest at your disposal. The front/right panel will be held in place by the pressure of the the top/bottom of the nest. It will actually fit nice and snug.
Prep the nest for attaching to its final resting location. From what we’ve seen, starlings seem to love interior corners of buildings. In our case, we’ll need to secure the nest using the back and the top. Had we thought this out differently, we could have made the left side removable, however this will suffice.
We purposefully made the removable part of the nest inaccessible to us to prevent undue prying eyes lest temptation get the better of us. Also, as starlings tend to stuff their nest full of anything they can get their beaks on, making a removable side panel can be temperamental and easily dislodged (permanently freaking out the mother bird and making her abandon her eggs should the side wall fall off; we’ve seen it happen). Attaching it in-place with a screw from the bottom is probably a good idea.
Nest Placement and Timeframe
Placing the nest in a corner near a structure is your best bet to have your nest attract lots of attention. Starlings like nooks and corners, and this is appealing to them. It may very well have to do with their nature to prefer human habitations for survival over non-natural ones; indeed, they do tend to thrive quite well by themselves.
Starlings will investigate, claim ownership of and occasionally hang out near or on the nest during most of the year. The only time they’ll actively use it is during breeding season. Here in the Pacific NorthWest, this tends to mean that our nest must be in place by February, with chicks hatching in May/June.
What to Expect
You’ve found a starling sitting near or on your nest, flapping his wings and proclaiming proudly to the world. Congratulations! A male starling has staked out his territory and is attempting to attract a female. He may have placed small twigs, flowers or other assorted items in (or often hanging out of) the nest as if to say, “this is some place I’ve got here!”
When a female joins him, she’ll promptly remove all items from the nest and redecorate it (go figure, my wife says). Once the nest is ready, she’ll start laying between 5-6 eggs at the rate of one egg per day and sit on them for the next 12-14 days until they hatch. Be careful not to be too curious as investigation of the interior of the nest will likely make the mother bird abandon the nest (along with any eggs or chicks inside).
Once hatched, the mother bird will start flying out from the nest on a regular basis ever 5-15 minutes to hunt for food. As she leaves, she’ll grab the feces left over from the baby birds which are, at this age, conveniently still contained in a self-enclosed sack. As she flies off, she’ll drop the “droppings” along her path. Take note that this can affect your decision as to where to place the nest! Her job also involves staying with them to provide warmth and to feed them on a regular basis.
Where is the husband in all of this? He’s around, although he tends to stay elsewhere during the nights. Once the starlings hatch and leave the nest, you’ll need to remove the nest and dispose of it. Chances are that it’ll be covered in bugs and other assorted critters. It’s the price of starling appreciation, I’m afraid to say. We end up making at least two each year and placing them in various areas of the yard where the squirrels are less likely to go.
Well, not necessarily a chart per-se, but this allows us to plan. Raising a baby bird requires a lot of time and dedication, and European Starlings are no exception. What follows is just our experience; I’m certain that there are various factors and YMMV. However, it helps to have a frame of reference.
Initial Real Estate
The male European Starling will start finding it’s preferred nest to claim. Here in the Pacific Northwest, this generally means around mid-February. The male will put assorted materials in the nest and occasionally hang certain yard findings out of the opening as if to announce the open house. He will then start to perch near the nest, singing and flapping his wings, in an attempt to attract a mate.
Once a female has been attracted, some form of unspoken contract is made and both claim the nest as their own. The female will then, in a very poetic twist of fate, start removing some or all of the interior furnishings in order to make sure that it is her nesting material that is used. This year, we plan to use cedar shavings in the nest ahead of time to help soak up some of the droppings; something we’ve previously done for winter weatherization; it should be interesting to see what, if any, will remain. This generally happens in mid-to-late March in our neck of the woods.
Eggs are laid in the nest, one egg per day, at approximately the same time. Generally speaking, a total of 4-5 glossy, pale blue eggs are laid. European Starlings know to limit/adjust their body coverage (heat) over the eggs to help prevent incubating the eggs in sequence; this way, all the eggs will hatch at the same time (plus or minus a day). Approximately early April, with a repeat performance of this and the further steps in late May.
Once the final egg is laid, the eggs will receive regular rotation by the parents and they will start applying full coverage and heat. They will do this consistently for approximately 11 to 13 days.
Egg Hatching (aka “Day 1”)
We’ll call this “Day 1” for reference. The babies will be born with their eyes closed shut and will remain this way through Day 6. They will be totally dependent on the parents for food and warmth. Mom and Dad will alternate feeding and take out “poop sacks” from the babies as they fly out of the nest (dropping them along the flight path out of the nest). Note to self: Time to move the cars.
Imprinting (Days 7-14)
If you are planning on adopting a European Starling, this is the time to do it. Once their eyes open, the visual imprinting begins. The earlier, the better. Now the real work begins. They need to be fed every 20-30 minutes during the day for a minimum of 12 hours per day.
Some Feathers / Fully Feathered (Day ??)
Once they start growing some feathers, you can reduce the feeding to every 45 minutes. As soon as they are fully feathered, you can reduce feeing to every 1-2 hours. There will be some overlap with the following stages.
Playing, Exploring (Day 18)
Around this time period, they will start to want to cautiously explore their surroundings. Introduce them to their toys and the areas of the house that you will be keeping them in. Lock up the cats, because the next stage is a doozy (see next stage, below).
Flying (Day 21)
They grow up so quickly! Be prepared to be amazed. If you’ve done a good job of interacting with them, they will have bonded with you and will fly to you if encouraged. The image below was just prior to his taking flight.
Food Delivery Change & Water (Day 28 / Week 4)
One should never feed a baby bird water directly. They’re not prepared for it and it can actually kill them (the mechanics are unknown to us), and they get the moisture from the soft food mixes that are their meals. However they can now have their baby food available from a bowl, as long as you continue to hand feed them. You can also provide a small bowl of water.
Independent Feeding (Weeks 6-10)
While they are still eating the baby formula, they can now eat independently on their own (we’ll write about this later on, because normal bird diets purchased from the stores won’t be adequate for their health and nutrition needs). This stage varies greatly between weeks 6-10, so your baby might need a longer period of time before they are ready for independent feeding. You’ll still see some begging for being fed; you can indulge them to some degree still, however don’t hand feed them unless asked by them.
Molting (8 weeks)
Your babies will start to grow out their new feathers around this stage.
Adult Diet (9-13 weeks)
You can switch them to the Adult European Starling Diet at this stage. The rule of thumb we’ve used is to begin when they’ve been eating independently for at least three weeks).
Talking (15-30 weeks)
You will be surprised at what they will begin to start saying. Don’t be deceived; they’ve been listening to you all this time and have selected what they consider to be their “flock song”. They may make general bird noises; they may mimic the TV or you or your partner.
Fully Adult Feathers (20 weeks)
A magnificent transformation will occur. The picture below is only a partial change in feathers.
DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) is commonly used to treat inflammation and is applied topically. This can be especially helpful if you need to target a specific area of your starling bird (say, the leg). It is easily absorbed by the skin. DMSO is a by-product of paper making (wood). It’s used as an industrial solvent and as an anti-inflammatory since the mid-20th century.
You’ll want to make sure you get 99.9% pure DMSO. Mix 1 milliliter of DMSO with 9 milliliters water to prepare a 10 percent solution and apply topically. It creates an odd odor that permeates the skin, so be prepared for your starling bird to temporarily be a little stinky.
You can also use DMSO to apply antibiotics directly to a wound.
Some people advocate using DMSO orally, although we have little experience with this and little is known about the long-term oral side-effects. The common advice is to give 10 milliliters per kilogram by mouth twice daily for three days for inflammation. If in doubt, stick to topical use.
Probiotics can be beneficial for your starling bird during a molt, after administering any type of medication, and any other time they experience stress. You can’t overdose with a probiotic. Probiotics are simply a boost for the good gut flora and helps to strengthen the bird’s health and immune system.