Sturnidae – Starlings, Mynas & Rhabdornis

Metallic Starling Aplonis metallica ©Ian Montgomery Website

Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds in the family Sturnidae. The name comes from the Latin word for starling, sturnus. Many Asian species, particularly the larger ones, are called mynas, and many African species are known as glossy starlings because of their iridescent plumage. Starlings are native to Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as northern Australia and the islands of the tropical Pacific. Several European and Asian species have been introduced to these areas as well as North America, Hawaii and New Zealand, where they generally compete for habitats with native birds and are considered to be invasive species. The starling species familiar to most people in Europe and North America is the common starling, and throughout much of Asia and the Pacific, the common myna is indeed common.

Starlings have strong feet, their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat is fairly open country, and they eat insects and fruit. Several species live around human habitation and are effectively omnivores. Many species search for prey such as grubs by open-bill probing, that is, forcefully opening the bill after inserting it into a crevice, thus expanding the hole and exposing the prey; this behaviour is referred to by the German verb zirkeln.

Plumage of many species is typically dark with a metallic sheen. Most species nest in holes and lay blue or white eggs.

Starlings have diverse and complex vocalisations and have been known to embed sounds from their surroundings into their own calls, including car alarms and human speech patterns. The birds can recognise particular individuals by their calls.

Starlings are medium-sized passerines. The shortest-bodied species is Kenrick’s Starling Poeoptera kenricki, at 15 centimetres, but the lightest-weight species is Abbott’s Starling Poeoptera femoralis, which is 34 grams. The largest starling, going on standard measurements and perhaps weight, is the Nias Hill Myna Gracula robusta. This species can measure up to 36cm and, in domestication they can weigh up to 400 grams. Rivalling the prior species in bulk if not dimensions, the mynas of the genus Mino are also large, especially the Yellow-faced Myna Mino dumontii and Long-tailed Myna Mino kreffti. The longest species in the family is the White-necked Myna Streptocitta albicollis, which can measure up to 50 cm, although around 60% in this magpie-like species is comprised by its very long tail.

There is less sexual dimorphism in plumage however, with only 25 species showing such differences between the two sexes. The plumage of the starling is often brightly coloured due to iridescence; this colour is derived from the structure of the feathers, not from any pigment. Some species of Asian starling have crests or erectile feathers on the crest. Other ornamentation includes elongated tail feathers and brightly coloured bare areas on the face. These colours can be derived from pigments, or, as in the Bali Starling, structural colour, caused by light scattering off parallel collagen fibres. The irises of many species are red and yellow, although those of younger birds are much darker.

The starlings are generally a highly social family. Most species associate in flocks of varying sizes throughout the year. A flock of starlings is called a murmuration. These flocks may include other species of starlings and sometimes species from other families. This sociality is particularly evident in their roosting behaviour; in the non-breeding season some roosts can number in the thousands of birds.

Starlings imitate a variety of avian species and have a repertoire of about 15–20 distinct imitations. They also imitate a few sounds other than those of wild birds. The calls of abundant species, calls that are simple in frequency structure and show little amplitude modulation, are preferentially imitated. There are local dialects of mimicked sounds. Starlings have also been known to imitate other man-made environmental sounds, such as phone tones and cars.

The diets of the starlings are usually dominated by fruits and insects. Many species are important dispersers of seeds in continents Asia and Africa, for example white sandalwood, Indian Banyan. In addition to trees they are also important dispersers of parasitic mistletoes. In South Africa, the Red-winged Starling is an important disperser of the introduced Acacia cyclops. Starlings have been observed feeding on fermenting over-ripe fruit, which led to the speculation that they might become intoxicated by the alcohol. Laboratory experiments on European starlings have found that they have disposal enzymes that allow them to break down alcohol very quickly. In addition to consuming fruits, many starlings will also consume nectar. The extent to which starlings are important pollinators is unknown, Starling of alpine East Africa, which pollinates giant lobelias.

Starlings inhabit a wide range of habitats from the Arctic Circle to the Equator. In fact the only habitat they do not typically occupy is the driest sandy deserts. The family is naturally absent from the Americas and from large parts of Australia, but is present over the majority of Europe, Africa and Asia (except for invasive Common Starlings in America and Common Myna in Australia and New Zealand). The genus Aplonis has also spread widely across the islands of the Pacific reaching Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia (in addition one species in the genus Mino has reached the Solomon Islands). It is also a species of this genus that is the only starling found in northern Australia.

There are 123 species of Starlings, Mynas and allies in the family Sturnidae; they are:

Metallic Starling Aplonis metallica
Violet-hooded Starling Aplonis circumscripta
Yellow-eyed Starling Aplonis mystacea
Singing Starling Aplonis cantoroides
Tanimbar Starling Aplonis crassa
Atoll Starling Aplonis feadensis
Rennell Starling Aplonis insularis
Long-tailed Starling Aplonis magna
White-eyed Starling Aplonis brunneicapillus
Brown-winged Starling Aplonis grandis
Makira Starling Aplonis dichroa
Rusty-winged Starling Aplonis zelandica
Striated Starling Aplonis striata
Tasman Starling Aplonis fusca
Mountain Starling Aplonis santovestris
Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis
Moluccan Starling Aplonis mysolensis
Short-tailed Starling Aplonis minor
Micronesian Starling Aplonis opaca
Pohnpei Starling Aplonis pelzelni
Polynesian Starling Aplonis tabuensis
Samoan Starling Aplonis atrifusca
Kosrae Starling Aplonis corvina
Mauke Starling Aplonis mavornata
Rarotonga Starling Aplonis cinerascens

Yellow-faced Myna Mino dumontii
Long-tailed Myna Mino kreffti
Golden Myna Mino anais

Sulawesi Myna Basilornis celebensis
Helmeted Myna Basilornis galeatus
Long-crested Myna Basilornis corythaix
Apo Myna Basilornis mirandus

Coleto Sarcops calvus

White-necked Myna Streptocitta albicollis
Bare-eyed Myna Streptocitta albertinae

Fiery-browed Starling Enodes erythrophris

Grosbeak Starling Scissirostrum dubium

Spot-winged Starling Saroglossa spilopterus

Golden-crested Myna Ampeliceps coronatus

Sri Lanka Hill Myna Gracula ptilogenys
Common Hill Myna Gracula religiosa
Southern Hill Myna Gracula indica
Nias Hill Myna Gracula robusta
Enggano Hill Myna Gracula enganensis

Great Myna Acridotheres grandis
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus
Javan Myna Acridotheres javanicus
Pale-bellied Myna Acridotheres cinereus
Jungle Myna Acridotheres fuscus
Collared Myna Acridotheres albocinctus
Bank Myna Acridotheres ginginianus
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
Black-winged Starling Acridotheres melanopterus
Vinous-breasted Starling Acridotheres burmannicus

Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus

Black-collared Starling Gracupica nigricollis
Pied Myna Gracupica contra

Daurian Starling Agropsar sturninus
Chestnut-cheeked Starling Agropsar philippensis

White-shouldered Starling Sturnia sinensis
Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnia malabarica
White-headed Starling Sturnia erythropygia
Malabar Starling Sturnia blythii
Brahminy Starling Sturnia pagodarum

White-faced Starling Sturnornis albofrontatus

Bali Myna Leucopsar rothschildi

Hoopoe Starling Fregilupus varius

Rodrigues Starling Necropsar rodericanus

Rosy Starling Pastor roseus

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor

Wattled Starling Creatophora cinerea

Black-bellied Starling Notopholia corrusca

Purple-headed Starling Hylopsar purpureiceps
Copper-tailed Starling Hylopsar cupreocauda

Cape Starling Lamprotornis nitens
Greater Blue-eared Starling Lamprotornis chalybaeus
Lesser Blue-eared Starling Lamprotornis chloropterus
Miombo Blue-eared Starling Lamprotornis elisabeth
Bronze-tailed Starling Lamprotornis chalcurus
Splendid Starling Lamprotornis splendidus
Principe Starling Lamprotornis ornatus
Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris
Purple Starling Lamprotornis purpureus
Rüppell’s Starling Lamprotornis purpuroptera
Long-tailed Glossy Starling Lamprotornis caudatus
Golden-breasted Starling Lamprotornis regius
Meves’s Starling Lamprotornis mevesii
Burchell’s Starling Lamprotornis australis
Sharp-tailed Starling Lamprotornis acuticaudus
Superb Starling Lamprotornis superbus
Hildebrandt’s Starling Lamprotornis hildebrandti
Shelley’s Starling Lamprotornis shelleyi
Chestnut-bellied Starling Lamprotornis pulcher
Ashy Starling Lamprotornis unicolor
Fischer’s Starling Lamprotornis fischeri
Pied Starling Lamprotornis bicolor
White-crowned Starling Lamprotornis albicapillus

Madagascan Starling Hartlaubius auratus

Violet-backed Starling Cinnyricinclus leucogaster

Red-winged Starling Onychognathus morio
Slender-billed Starling Onychognathus tenuirostris
Chestnut-winged Starling Onychognathus fulgidus
Waller’s Starling Onychognathus walleri
Somali Starling Onychognathus blythii
Socotra Starling Onychognathus frater
Tristram’s Starling Onychognathus tristramii
Pale-winged Starling Onychognathus nabouroup
Bristle-crowned Starling Onychognathus salvadorii
White-billed Starling Onychognathus albirostris
Neumann’s Starling Onychognathus neumanni

Stuhlmann’s Starling Poeoptera stuhlmanni
Kenrick’s Starling Poeoptera kenricki
Narrow-tailed Starling Poeoptera lugubris
Sharpe’s Starling Poeoptera sharpii
Abbott’s Starling Poeoptera femoralis

White-collared Starling Grafisia torquata

Magpie Starling Speculipastor bicolor

Babbling Starling Neocichla gutturalis

Stripe-headed Rhabdornis Rhabdornis mystacalis
Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis Rhabdornis inornatus
Grand Rhabdornis Rhabdornis grandis

Species Links
  • Bali Starling Leucopsar rothschildi

    Species Account
    The internationally supported Bali Starling Project is attempting to rebuild the population by re-introducing captive birds to the wild. At the Bali Starling Pre-Release Centre, formerly caged birds are introduced to the food sources of the natural environment and encouraged to nest in native trees before being released around Taman National Bali Barat national park…
  • Bali Starling Leucopsar rothschildi

    IUCN Species Status
    25 cm. Medium-large, stocky starling. Almost wholly white with long, drooping crest, black wing-tips and tail tip. Blue bare skin around eye and legs, yellow bill.
  • Bali Starling Leucopsar rothschildi

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Metallic Starling Aplonis metallica

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Metallic Starling Aplonis metallica

    Species Account
    The metallic starling (Aplonis metallica), also known as shining starling, is a bird in the starling family. It is native of the Moluccas, New Guinea, Queensland and the Solomon Islands.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 123

Other Links
  • Starlings In The UK

    ​Welcome to Starlings In The UK, a website to give you information regarding the Starling Murmurations that occur at the roost sites in the British Isles.

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