Discover the meaning and symbolism of the starling bird in a variety of contexts and encounters. Interpretations from the ancient Celtic culture to modern times.
Starlings are beautiful, dark birds found all over the United States, Canada, and Northern Mexico, though they are only native to central Europe. They are boisterous and mischievous birds, known for their fast-flying across lawns and fields.
You can recognize a starling by its incredible iridescent purple and black feathers and short tail. In addition, starlings have gray bills in the fall and yellow bills in the spring.
Starlings are primarily communication symbols due to their incredible ability to mimic noises and even human speech. Therefore, seeing a starling may mean a need for better communication in your relationships.
On the other hand, starlings are also spiritual symbols of intuition and change. To this end, seeing a starling may mean it is time to embrace changes in your life or follow your instincts.
Starling Symbolism in Different Cultures
Starlings have a variety of meanings across many cultures because of their prevalence and geographical range. Due to their recent introduction into North America, they have much more history in Europe than here.
Starlings in Celtic Culture
In the United Kingdom, in the mid-1700s, a new marriage act in England meant that many young couples would need their parent’s permission to marry. Many couples who could not get their parents’ approval still sought marriage and fled to Scotland, where the laws were laxer.
These runaway couples often found themselves in Gretna Green, partially because of its close location to England and partially because of the starlings.
Starlings flock in large groups and fly through the sky together, swarming and dancing through the air. This type of flight is called a murmuration. One of the biggest flocks in the Celtic nations would gather above this small Scottish town, beckoning lovers into a haven where they could marry. In this story, starlings symbolize freedom, love, and individuality.
The starlings and the story of Gretna Green are so pervasive and inspiring that Gretna Green is still a destination wedding place for many people today. The starlings and the spring and fall still beckon lovers into the beautiful little town all these years later.
In another story, the Welsh King Bran gave his sister Branwen to the Irish king to wed. Bran hoped to make peace between the Irish and the Welsh. However, their brother Efnisien was displeased with this, as he held a strong grudge against the Irish. So Efinsien killed the Irishmen’s horses in a rage.
The Irish king soon forgave Efinsien and agreed to take Branwen as a wife. Years later, however, the people of Ireland had not forgotten the slight. Convinced by his people and counselors, the Irish king sent Branwen to the kitchens as a maid.
Branwen then sent her trained starling back to Wales to ask her brother Bran for help. Furious about the treatment of his beloved sister, Bran set to cross the sea with his army to rescue her, beginning a rivalry that would not resolve for many years.
Here, like in other stories, starlings are a symbol of communication and community. The starling brought Branwen safely back to her family in her time of great need.
Starlings in Roman Mythology
Starlings were present in Rome in large numbers. They swarmed in murmurations then just as they do today. Roman diviners, who communed with and monitored the gods, believed that the patterns of starlings’ murmurations signaled how the gods felt.
This divination was hugely important in Roman politics. If anything of importance happened in the Roman political sphere, the diviners watched closely to see if the gods approved or disapproved of what was happening.
Different flocking patterns of starlings told the diviners all they needed to know about how the gods felt and what decisions should be made or altered to appease them.
Once again, in this legend, starlings represent the transference of wisdom and knowledge—in essence, communication. But they also represent the augers’ intuition and ability to read the skies and interpret situations based on what they saw.
Starlings in the Bible
While the Bible does not mention starlings specifically, it does make many references to ravens and crows. Ravens could be a generic term used for starlings, which were far more common in Israel then.
Ravens—or possibly starlings—brought the prophet Elijah food when he hid from nonbelievers. They acted as both a saving grace and a sign from God that Elijah was right and following the correct path.
In the 12th chapter of Luke, the Bible says to consider the ravens, who had no means to feed themselves but for God. So here, starlings may represent faith in God to provide for people who believe in Him.
Other Starling Legends
Not many know that Mozart had a starling he kept as a pet. Mozart is widely known for his love of birds, mainly canaries. It is said that one day he was visiting a pet shop when a starling sang one of Mozart’s not-yet-released melodies to him. Enamored, Mozart immediately brought the bird home.
It is more likely that Mozart either lifted the melody from the bird, or that he taught the bird the song later, but this story has stuck around for over 100 years nonetheless.
Mozart loved his starling, and he held a large funeral when it passed away. The beautiful starling that learned and sang Mozart’s melodies proves they are indeed incredible creatures.
Shakespeare and the Central Park Birds
European starlings, as the name implies, are not native to North America. So how could they have arrived here, from an ocean away?
The story goes that in the late 1800s, a man called Eugene Schiefelin was a fanatic of Shakespeare’s plays. He was such a fanatic that he had the goal of releasing every bird mentioned by Shakespeare into North America.
As the birds were native to the United Kingdom and Europe, most did not survive well in North America and perished before they could reproduce. But starlings were different. They thrived in their new environment and have since spread across the entirety of North America.
Despite starlings only having a brief reference in Henry IV, Shieffelin released around 100 European starlings in Central Park, NYC. Today, there are as many as 150 million across North America. Unfortunately, they are now an invasive and harmful species that do an estimated $800 million worth of crop damage in the United States each year.
While this legend has been retold many times, it is far more likely that starlings crossed the Atlantic as pets and were released by many people—not just Shieffelin. In fact, historians have no solid proof that Shieffelin was a Shakespeare fan at all!
What Starlings Mean Spiritually
Starlings symbolize community, communication, and connection, but what do they mean as parts of your spirit or as representations of you?
Starlings as a Spirit Animal
Starlings may resonate with you spiritually if you are talented at communication or have a gift for stories. They are also rambunctious and playful animals, so you may have a free and playful spirit if you find starlings to be your kin.
Starlings are also known for moving quickly, skipping around, and flying at fast speeds. So have caution—having a starling as a spirit animal may also be a sign of impatience and distraction.
People with starlings as spirit animals are also easier to offend than others and much slower to forgive. However, do not worry too much, as this may not necessarily be a bad thing. Those with starling spirit animals are also very intuitive and may very well be right about their feelings.
Starlings as a Power Animal
Power animals may come into your life when you need their powers. Starlings are fantastic communicators and flow in their communities. They work in perfect synchronicity with other starlings during murmurations.
If you find yourself drawn to the power of a starling, it may be time to take on their strength and chatter. You may be moving into a time where you should learn to collaborate more effectively with those around you.
A starling appearing to you as a guide may also mean it is time to open up about your feelings and difficulties. There may be things that are difficult to share and be honest about, but a starling can guide you into honesty and open communication with those you love.
Starlings as a Totem Animal
In Native American culture, a totem animal is the spiritual symbol of a family, individual, or tribe. However, as starlings are still a relatively new introduction into North America, Native Americans do not include starlings as one of their animal totems.
You may find yourself drawn to the starling as a totem anyway. In many old stories, we are unsure if crows and ravens might refer to starlings or other blackbirds. The crow totem, for example, is representative of creativity, cunning, balance, and strength—like starlings.
Encountering a Starling
Like being drawn to them, encountering a starling in the physical world may mean you need better communication or to open up. How you meet a starling will make a difference, however.
Encountering a Starling in a Dream
Symbols in dreams usually tell you where you should set your sights and what goals you should aim to achieve. So seeing a starling in a dream may mean you need to work on your communication. The other parts of your dream may tell you which communication is the problem.
Perhaps you have a dream about work, and you need to find new ways of collaborating with your colleagues. You may have dreamt about your partner and a starling, which may mean you are holding something back from them.
You may have even dreamt about a starling close to you. This may mean that you are holding something back from yourself or being dishonest with yourself about your true feelings.
Encountering a Starling in Your House
A starling coming into your home may represent where you need better communication—amongst the people you live with. Encountering a starling in your house is a sure sign that your family members need to open up and find more effective communication methods.
Encountering a Starling in a Swarm
A swarm of starlings, also called a murmuration, can be a beautiful and haunting sight. Remember that the ancient Romans believed that they could interpret these murmurations to tell them whether the gods were pleased—or not amused.
Today, seeing a murmuration of starlings may mean many different things. First, they often occur during dusk and dawn in the spring and the fall. This may mean a need for change in your life, as murmurations often occur during transition periods.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does a Starling Tattoo Mean?
Any bird tattoo usually means freedom, either literally or spiritually. They also often represent independence, optimism, and happiness in life. Getting a bird tattoo often implies that someone desires to live outside societal constraints and find inner peace in freedom.
Are Starlings Mean?
Starlings are considered pest animals in much of Europe and North America. This is because they outcompete native birds in many places and are known for causing significant crop damage.
Starlings can also be aggressive to other species of birds, especially songbirds. Despite their beauty and many positive traits, it is possible to consider these chatty birds to be mean.
Are Starlings Evil?
Starlings are not evil. While they may cause lots of damage to urban communities, crops, and native bird populations, they were brought to North America by people and have simply adapted to a new environment.
Are Starlings Good Luck?
Starlings are neither good nor bad luck. Nevertheless, they are one of the most common birds in North America and Europe.
Which God is Associated with Starlings?
The Greek god Acanthis is associated with all birds because he and his family turned into birds when Apollo and Zeus took pity on them after a herd of horses attacked them.
The crow—often a catchall of any blackbird, including the starling—is also sacred to the Greek god Apollo.