Hunting Starlings With Airguns
I remember being quite young when my vendetta with the starling started and I began hunting starlings with airguns.
The house I grew up in Texas had a pair of purple martins that had taken up residence in the birdhouse in our yard. After a couple years of seeing the martins I’d grown quite fond of them. They were chipper birds that put a wallop on mosquitoes during the summer so we loved having them around.
After while I started to notice than the martins weren’t in the house as often and at one point I’d seen a starling chasing the martin every which way it could fly. Then I didn’t see them at all, instead the small starling was constantly in and out of the house. Curiosity got the better of me and I end up lowering the birdhouse which was about 20 feet high.
Inside I found both martins had been killed with even their eyes pecked out. It was my first lesson in how aggressively the European starling will compete for nesting sites. I promptly shot the starling but a pair of martins never did come back. My story is quite common though and the starling has elevated to the status being one of the most infamous pest birds around.
Heading photo. You don’t need much gear for hunting Starlings with airguns. Just a rifle and some pellets, though I like to a rangefinder to really dial in my accuracy on long shots.
Hunting Starlings with airguns begins by identifying the prey!
European Starlings can be found year round across every state in the US as well into most Canada. They were introduced to North America by some Shakespearean fanatics in the 1890s who were set on America having all the birds Shakespeare wrote about. Romantic enough, but the effects of introducing a non-native and invasive species can be devastating on a local population. The starling has out competed many of the indigenous birds and quickly spread across the US paving their legacy.
Starlings are small squat birds with short wings and a stubby tail. One of their most stand out features is the slender yellow beak as well as the purple and green iridescent plumage that has those typical tiny white triangles. They are not particularly fast flying birds with those short wings but they make up for it with maneuverability. I’ve watched pairs of starlings harass cats, squirrels and even hawks with quick course changes and a sharp beak.
The males and females look similar but with some variances in eye color and bill length. Juveniles are a dingy brown that will eventually molt into that bright shiny purple and green plumage.
They are known to be mimics similar to the mocking birds and can make quite a range of songs. However I have rarely heard the mimicry as much as I’ve heard the shrill shriek while they fight or defend territory.
Starlings are common to find as they will typically invade any area that holds a food source and that could be just about anything. In urban settings they’ll gather in droves at fast food places or just about any back yard with a bird feeder in it. I have seen them in flocks of ten thousand strong flying from ranch to ranch devouring feed and grain.
They’re commonly found on power lines as well as fence lines as they seem to like a fair amount of height. On the ground they take short clumsy hops and tend to feed in close knit groups.
Starlings are cavity nesters like many other birds. I’ve seen them in hollowed gourds, tree hollows, and especially in house eaves or even nooks and crannies in commercial buildings
Guns and Gear
I actually find the starling to be an interesting and curious animal, but I have controlled them for many years to help indigenous species that are beneficial to have around. The most efficient method I’ve found is using an accurate air gun since they’re quiet and can be used safely in many of the areas starlings are found.
Starlings aren’t that hard to kill. With thin plumage they can dispatched with 3 to 4 ft/lbs of energy. This makes even light powered rifles viable for the task of hunting Starlings with airguns.
.177 caliber is just perfect for these birds but as my range increases I can hit more reliably with larger calibers that buck the wind better. The birds are small with around a 3/4-inch body kill zone and less for a head shot, accuracy should definitely be of more concern than power in the case of starling control.
When I squirrel hunt I like binoculars to spot the critters, but for starlings I prefer to bring along a laser rangefinder to insure my shots will land at ranges past 60 yards. They’re fairly cheap nowadays at around $100-150 for a reliable one.
But hunting Starlings with airguns doesn’t need to be expensive! For many years I used a Crosman 2240 with a long barrel and shoulder stock for all sorts of pest control. The entire kit and kaboddle was perhaps $100. No recoil and great accuracy out to 50 yards made it a no brainer.
Below. Derek says, “I got this pair of starlings with one lucky shot from the .20 caliber Daystate Huntsman at around 24 yards. As the pellet exited the first bird the unlucky second starling was hit in the neck flying from the nest.”
Tips and Tricks
Keep a watchful eye on your bird houses. If you see starlings in the area you can bet that they’ll soon be aggressively competing with the indigenous birds for space and food.
Starlings can be baited quite easily as they’re voracious and aggressive eaters. You can thin out an overpopulation of birds with a couple high fat suet feeders and decent place to sit.
Sometimes a place to shoot is just down the road. Cattle ranchers will often welcome you with open arms to help control the damage Starlings do to feed not only by eating it but soiling it with droppings. Just be professional and polite, the worst they can say is no.
Body shots can be hard to decipher on birds. For the Starling I like to put frontal shots just below the neck almost interesting with the wing base line. Broad side shots are best right at the base of the wing or a bit above. If the shot lands lower it has the thick wing to deal with and can be a gamble on a clean kill.
Starlings have been known to lay eggs in other birds nest trying to trick the other species into raising their young. Quite ingenious so they don’t use their own resources, but dangerous to your local populace.
Decoys can be used to attract starlings to a bait site. There are plastic models available or you could also use downed birds on a wire frame. Often times you’ll see starlings attacking dead birds, they’re scrappers for sure!
I hope some of this information can benefit your hunting with airguns. I wish y’all all the best!