Blue Tips on Starling Bills

Do blue tips on the bills of European Starlings mean anything? I notice a difference across time and across birds. In Birds of the World/European Starling/Plumages, Molts, and Structure I read that breeding adults have yellow beaks, that in males “the base of the lower mandible is bluish or blue-gray” and in females it is pinkish. However, more research of the literature suggests that these indicators are not definitive. I agree.

I can’t even find this difference in a flock of starlings perched in a tree. And I’ve examined many. See my checklists on eBird. Here are some of my photos to show what I’m talking about.

March 7 2023. Both these birds, one mature and one immature, have the dark tip.

March 9 2023 The immature bird on the right has only a very faint hint of the dark tip, not as pronounced as the adult on the left.

April 28 2022 This adult’s bill is completely yellow.

I also have photos of adult birds on June 4 last year, one has a dark tip, the other is all yellow. So it’s not time of year or age of bird. Any ideas?

I can’t find any way to preview this. I’ll just have to post and hope it looks right.

Just speculating ….Perhaps stained from eating dark berries or some other staining causing activity ?

Most starlings I see have dark bill tips, though it’s hard to say if it’s a stain from dirt (as their bill tips always go in the ground) or actual colour, both males and females have dark tips, the only all-yellow bill on my photos is

From Birds of the World:

The bill darkens after the breeding season to dark gray-brown or black with the result that by early winter only 5%–10% of birds have yellow bills.

Bills of adult males begin to turn yellow in late Dec, followed by adult females, then first year birds. Yellow appears first near the base of the lower mandible and progresses to the tip as a result of bill wear.


Thank you for this link. It answers my question, especially the last part of this line:

This change in color is caused in both sexes by circulating androgens released by the testes or the ovaries (Witschi and Miller 1938), and is geographically variable (Wydoski 1964).

What I observe in my local birds may differ from what was observed in Pennsylvania. Etc. But it has to do with androgens or hormones, age, and time of year.

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Your photo is a different bird: Black Sea Starling. Bill especially looks different with black along the base. I accept Swampster’s scientific answer since it is more consistent with the appearance of the bills than stains. Locally, the ground has been frozen and covered with two inches/5 cm ice for the past month or so. Stains would have worn off by now. Nor would they all look exactly the same on all the birds.

That is the same bird. As I said, hormones are what makes gull parts yellow, so it makes sense, but dark-tipped birds are found throughout the whole summer.

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