A Properly Fed European Starling is a Healthy Bird!

NOTE: As owners of this website, we have chosen to share our experiences and opinions on these webpages. We present this info "as is", and we shall have no liablility to anyone regarding any circumstance or occurrence related to the starling(s) or other birds in their care. It is each starling owner's responsibility to make the best choices for the diet, safety, health, care and wellbeing of his or her own starling.

The European Starling's Diet
Our Adult Starlings' Diet
Why Did We Choose this Diet?
Why is Diet SO Important?
Healthy Treats
Foods We Avoid
About Avian Vitamins
Live Insects and Worms
Poultry mash, veggies, grit, etc
Diet Related Links
Feeding a Baby Starling
Final Thoughts

About the European Starling's Diet   next

What do wild European starlings eat?
Starlings are softbilled birds (this means that they eat a diet of soft foods). Starlings are not seed-eating birds like parrots, nor are they fruit-eating birds like some mynahs. They eat a diet high in soft-bodied insects and round out their diet with occasional vegetation and fruits. Although often described as omnivores, they eat a larger amount of insects than do many omnivorous birds. European starlings require animal protein in their diets, which they receive from eating huge numbers of invertebrates.
According to The Starling by Dr. Christopher Feare, "the absence of animal protein from the starling diet leads to weight loss and death." Click the following link for more info: "Animal protein is necessary for European starlings!"

Diet for rescued starlings
We cannot perfectly emulate the wild starling's diet. However, many wildlife rehab centers feed a cat food or dog food based mixture to starlings and other wild baby songbirds in their care. Jackie Collins suggests a similar diet for European starlings -- a diet based on the current knowledge of songbird diet. This recommended diet has proven successful at providing necessary animal protein and other beneficial nutrients required by these birds. See Jackie's recommended diet here: Adult Starling Diet

Learn more!
To find out what European starlings eat in the wild and why a diet containing dog/cat food (animal protein!) is nutritional for rescued starlings, read the following article at the Starling Talk website: "What? Feed Dog food To A Starling?"

Our Adult Starlings' Daily Diet top next

Stormy, Sunshine, and Shadow's MAIN DAILY DIET can be found on Starling Talk's Adult Starling Diet webpage.
Our starlings' main daily food is a one dish meal consisting of finely ground dry dog food mixed with ground poultry layer feed (sometimes called "poultry mash" or "layer mash"). Our birds love this food mixture and will eat it dry or moistened. It is the mainstay of their diet and is supplemented occasionally by several healthy foods.

There are several brands of dry cat or dog foods that contain a good balance of animal protein and fat for starlings. Click this webpage to see a list several appropriate brands.


Why Did We Choose this Diet? top next

Why do we trust the dog/dat food based diet for our starlings?
We chose this diet as our starlings' main daily diet for several reasons: It is based on what is currently known about European starling diet. It supplies our starlings with necessary animal protein and a good balance of vitamins, essential amino acids and minerals. Wildlife rehabbers across our country have a very good longterm track record feeding a similar dog/cat food diet to many wild songbirds in their care.

Experience with our own starlings over the years has shown us that the dog/cat food diet is providing them with the nutrition they need to remain in tip-top shape. At the time of this writing, Stormy is 12 years old, Sunny is 10 years old, and Shadow is eight years old. All three starlings are energetic, healthy, and glossy. Their feathers, beaks and nails are in good condition.


Why Is Diet SO Important for Birds? top next

About inadequate avian diet and malnutrition
It is extremely important that we feed our European starlings a diet that is correct for their species, one with the proper level of animal protein and the necessary balance of amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Why is this? Any bird fed a daily diet lacking the required nutrients for its species WILL eventually develop malnutrition. For instance, a starling could be fed a large amount of foods every day and appear fat and energetic for a time, yet the bird will still develop malnutrition if the foods are deficient in the required nutrients. Its owner may be unaware that the bird is in trouble until it is too late.

If on a deficient diet longterm, a starling's body will attempt to compensate for the lack of nutrition by utilizing the reserves of nutrients already stored in its body. These reserved nutrients will become depleted, and when this happens, signs of malnutrition will manifest. This does not happen overnight! Diet-related diseases due to depletion of nutrients in the body may take several years to become obvious, but they WILL show up sooner or later in birds on poor diets. Results will be both physical and behavioral and could include any of the following: poor feather condition, decreased resistance to bacterial, fungal or viral diseases, chronic kidney failure, liver disease, respiratory problems, hyperkeratosis, hypocalcemia (low calcium levels) which causes bone fractures, muscle atrophy, weakness and unsteadiness, listlessness, and much, much more. Once malnutrition reaches its advanced stages, it results in death of the bird.

The following are just a few examples of nutritionally deficient diets for European starlings: a mealworm diet, an all insect diet, a commercial parrot food diet, a mynah pellet diet, a seed diet, a raw meat diet, a rice diet, a bread and milk diet, an all fruit/vegetable diet, or any diet that lacks required animal protein and the right levels of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.


Healthy Treats top next

We want to emphasize here that the dog food mixture is our starlings' MAIN daily food, and it is always available to them.

In addition to the main diet, we occasionally offer our starlings nutritional treats. These are offered in very small portions and never mixed in with the main diet. While our birds are not big treat eaters and much prefer their dog food/layer mash mixture over other foods, they will occasionally eat a small treat.

Animal Protein Foods
Our starlings are occasionally given animal protein supplements in the form of cooked egg or cooked chicken. These small animal-protein treats are served separately from the main diet and are not left sitting out for long.

Veggies for Vitamin A and Other Nutrients
Vitamin A is extremely important, so a few times a week, we give our birds a snack consisting of vegetables high in beta carotene (beta carotene converts to vitamin A in the body). See the list of our preferred veggies and fruits below.

  • Dark green or orange vegetables -- broccoli, kale, sprouted seeds, cooked mashed sweet potato, cooked/chopped carrots, pumpkin (We prefer to slightly cook root veggies before serving, as this makes their nutrients easier to absorb. Yes, starlings can digest raw root veggies, but they receive more of the important nutrients from slightly cooked ones.)
  • Sprouted seeds
  • Fruits -- figs (our starlings' favorite!), blueberries, blackberries, cherries (chopped with pits removed), apple bits, or chopped grapes

Our Birdie Bread - An Occasional Homemade Snack
Once in a while we give our birds a small amount of homemade birdie bread. If you are interested in our recipe, click HERE.

(Note: If you dislike this recipe because it contains corn muffin mix, do an online search, and you will find many recipes for homemade treats for your own birds. Most bird owners have their own favorite versions of birdie bread.)

Misc. Special Treats
There are a couple items we give our starlings only as very special treats. We don't offer these foods every day, and when we do offer them, we usually do so when our starlings are spending time with us out of cages, when we are training them, or sometimes when bribing one back into a cage for the night. These items are freeze-dried crickets and freeze-dried ants. Both can be ordered online if not available in local pet stores. (NOTE: Our birds love these special treats, but again, we do NOT give them these items on a daily basis.)

NOTE: We remove fresh foods from our birds' dishes after an hour or two and never let them sit out for extended periods. Many fresh foods will spoil and grow bacteria if left out for long periods. The result can be an ill bird.


Foods We Avoid Giving to Our Starlings top next
  • Parrot pellets, softbill pellets, mynah food, or monkey chow (These diets are formulated for seedeaters or fruiteaters, and they do not meet a starling's nutritional requirements! A starling needs around 33% animal protein in its diet.)
  • Raw meats or raw eggs (We cook ALL meats or eggs before serving.)
  • Cherry pits and apple pips
  • Foods high in sugar (cookies, cake, candy, etc.)
  • Very salty junk foods and processed foods (potato chips, hot dogs, etc.)
  • Chocolate drinks, sodas
  • Dairy products such as milk or ice cream
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Bird seeds
  • See the Starling Talk website for a list of inappropriate treats for starlings.


About Avian Vitamins top next

We do not give vitamins to our starlings on a regular basis, rather we prefer to offer vitamins only when our birds are molting or seem stressed. When we do offer vitamins, we do not add them to drinking water. We feel that adding vitamins to a starling's food is much more effective and safe than adding them to water. Vitamins added to water break down and begin to decompose within several hours, leaving them ineffective. If the vitamins remain in drinking water for hours, bacterial growth is encouraged, and the water becomes slimy. This may cause illness. Some popular powdered avian vitamins include Hagen's Prime (our choice), Superpreen, Vionate, and Nekton -- all can be sprinkled on or mixed into moist food. Avitron is a good liquid avian vitamin that can be added to foods instead of to water. Avian vitamins can be found at various online bird supply stores by doing an online search for the various brands.

When giving a bird vitamins, it is very important to use avian vitamins (vitamins made for birds) and to read the directions as to the amount required. A tiny amount goes a long way. Too many synthetic vitamins in a bird's diet can be detrimental to its health!


Live Insects and Worms top next

Live Insects (Fun occasional treats, but not a necessity)
It is important for new starling owners to realize that a diet consisting of mostly or only insects will not supply a complete diet for a pet starling. In fact, live insects are not a necessity for a pet starling who is on the recommended Starling Talk dog/cat food diet.

Some starling owners do feed live insects such as crickets to their starlings as fun treats. This should not be a problem as long as the live insects are fed only occasionally and in limited quantities. We know of some pet starlings who were fed as many insects as they wanted daily, and the result was that these birds soon refused to eat anything else. Feeding a pet starling only crickets or mealworms is putting the bird's health at risk.

Mealworms (Low in nutrition)
Mealworms (beetle larvae) supply very little nutrition to a starling, and they are high in fat. We never feed them to our starlings, however, if you decide to feed them to your starling, it would be best to offer them only as very infrequent treats. Please be aware that a diet of ALL mealworms or mostly mealworms will eventually result in health problems due to nutritional deficiencies such as Hyperkeratosis, and such a deficient diet can even result in death.

Earthworms (We avoid them.)
Earthworms and night crawlers can carry harmful parasites. These parasites are the Syngamus trachea, commonly known as "gapeworm." Earthworms can ingest the parasites and harbor them in their bodies for several years. Birds who eat the infected earthworms may become infected with gapeworm larvae. Gapeworms can be present in large numbers and may completely fill the airway, resulting in extreme respiratory difficulty for a bird. While it is true that some wild birds eat earthworms, many birds cannot handle the parasites they carry. We suggest avoiding the feeding of earthworms to starlings.

Misc Notes: Poultry mash, good veggies, grit, etc. top next

What is poultry layer mash?
Poultry layer mash (or layer feed) is chicken food that is formulated for laying hens. It is sold in feed stores and livestock supply stores. When buying poultry mash, you might find it called by one of the following terms: chicken mash, chicken feed, or layer feed, crumbles or mash, etc. Do not buy chicken "scratch" or poultry "starter" food for use in the starling diet. (Chicken scratch is simply cracked corn and grains; starter food is for poultry chicks and often contains antiobiotics, which should not be fed to starlings.)

Good vegetable sources of beta-carotene (for vitamin A)
Orange/yellow carotene-rich veggies & fruits including carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, cantaloupe, mangos, apricots etc. Dark green, leafy vegetables in this group include kale, broccoli leaves, turnips, collards. Sprouted seeds are excellent sources of vitamin A, and our birds love them.

No grit or gravel needed.
European starlings do not have crops, but they do have very efficient gizzards and do not require grit or gravel in their diets as do doves or pigeons. We have never given grit to our starlings, and we do not recommend it.


Diet Related Links top next

Adult Starling Diet -- This Starling Talk webpage provides an excellent recipe for an appropriate main diet for adult starlings, and it lists in detail both proper foods and harmful foods for starlings as well as insect suppliers.
Chef Ringo
-- Ringo Star-ling is an expert on starling likes and dislikes, being a starling himself. If you would like some tasty treat recipes for your starling, then you will find some very good ones at his Chef Ringo website.
Sprouting for Healthier Birds
-- Everything you need to know about sprouts. Good info about how to sprout your own seeds, grains and legumes for your birds.


Feeding a Baby Starling top

If you have recently rescued a baby starling and need to know detailed information about caring for a starling nestling or fledgling, making a proper handfeeding mixture for it, how to handfeed it, etc. please visit the following webpage asap at Jackie Collins' Starling Talk website: Baby Starling Care. It provides expert info on the best diet for raising a healthy starling.


Final Thoughts on Adult Starling Diet

Whatever you choose to feed your starling, be sure it supplies a high level of animal protein and a good balance of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. If you offer vegetables as occasional treats, don't forget to add veggies high in beta carotene. Remember that insects alone DO NOT supply ample nutrition for a starling. Seed diets and commercial parrot foods are not appropriate for starlings. Additionally, mynah pellets (created for fruit eaters) are not complete diets for European starlings.

We feel that the diet recommended on the Adult Starling Diet webpage is the most reliable diet, based on current knowledge of starling nutrition. However, please remember that YOU are responsible for supplying a nutritious diet to your own bird! His health will depend upon it, so choose his diet wisely.

A Special Thank You to Jackie Collins for sharing her recommended starling diet and for spending so much time teaching us about nutritional requirements of starlings. Thanks, Jackie! Because of you, Stormy, Sunshine, and Shadow are in fine feathered form!

Don't miss Jackie Collins' Starling Talk website

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