Identifying european starlings

Use this information to help identify European starlings and English sparrows.

Both of these species are cavity nesters that tolerate human proximity. Each species can be recognized by its own distinctive chatter. Below are descriptions and photos of both to help you identify them.

Where were the babies and/or nests found?

  • European starling nests are often found in dryer vents, attic areas, and eaves and are made by filling a cavity with grasses, twigs, dried leaves, cloth, feathers and trash. Starling nests often contain four or five babies, and may be fouled with droppings.
  • English sparrows utilize birdhouses, holes in walls, billboard braces, mailboxes, air conditioners, shutters and awnings and are constructed of grasses, weeds, trash, feathers, hair and string.English sparrows frequently steal nest cavities from other birds and eject the occupants. Nests may contain babies of varying size, particularly if a large clutch.

What do the babies look like?

  • Both of these species have large yellow gape flanges or “lips”.
  • European starling nestlings appear to be all mouth. Their yellow mouth lining and extremely large yellow flanges are unmistakable. Nestlings have pink skin; sparse fluffy gray down on top of their heads; and bulging round abdomens. Fledglings still have large lips, but are a sleek gray-brown all over. Some may have faint streaking on the breast.
  • English sparrow nestlings have a pink skin without down, a pink mouth, and prominent yellow flanges. Fledglings have pinkish-buff bills, legs and feet; a buff-colored line behind each eye; and a grayish-brown back, gray abdomen, and lighter gray throat.

What do the parents look like?

  • European starling adults are chunky black birds, usually with colorful speckles. They have short tails and prominent yellow bills.
  • English sparrows are small brown birds with unstreaked breasts. Adult males have black bibs.

Need help identifying them?
Use the photos below (from nestling to fledgling to adult) to help you determine if the bird you have found is a European starling or English sparrow.

Click on each thumbnail to see a larger image.

European Starling


English Sparrow

What should I do with a baby starling or sparrow?
Remember, all baby birds should be left in their parents’ care unless they have been injured or orphaned. Put naked nestlings back in the nest; adults will not reject their young just because humans have handled them. Feathered young birds wandering around the yard should not be disturbed; their parents are looking after them while they learn to fly and fend for themselves. If you return them to the nest, they may injure themselves when they hop out again.

If they appear to be abandoned, watch from a window for at least an hour to see if adults are nearby and if they return to feed them. Give a young bird every opportunity to be raised by its parents. If you cannot return a very young bird to its nest, or if a baby has been injured or is truly orphaned, you should take it to a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator who is trained to care for birds.

Tri-State Bird Rescue is licensed to care for native wild birds. Because of the large number of babies that fill the Clinic during the summer months, we no longer have the resources to care for young English sparrows or European starlings at our Center. If you are unsure of the species of a bird in need, please contact our center at (302) 737-9543.

Federal and state permits are usually not required to raise these non-native species; however, it is a very demanding undertaking that requires a great deal of commitment to give them the care they deserve. State laws may vary, and housing or providing treatment to these species may be illegal in your area.

They should not be treated like pets, but instead be given every opportunity to return to live among their own kind in the wild. State laws may vary regarding the care of these non-native species. Please consult your local laws before attempting to give care to a non-native bird.

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