Saturday, 29 June 2013

Passerines 1: Superb Starling

Superb Starling
Kicking off a new series on the various passerines we have at Bristol we begin with one of the more widely kept and exhibited of the passerines to be seen in zoos around the world, the Superb Starling Lamprotornis (formerly Spreo) superbus. Starlings on the whole make good aviary exhibits, being fairly large for passerines and many species feed on both fruit and animal matter, which makes feeding them easier. In the past supplying a variety of live insects for aviary birds, especially when they were raising young, was quite a chore, and usually expensive, but modern live food commercial companies now exist and an increasing number of insectivorous species are being bred successfully. Starlings posed less trouble than more specialised smaller passerines, as the animal part of their diet could be supplied in the form of baby mice, which were a lot easier to breed in bulk than say crickets.

Even so, compared to seed or fruit eating birds few insectivores were bred in large numbers as they tend to be more demanding in their requirements for both feeding and housing. Most insectivorous passerines are highly territorial when nesting, with both partners needing to defend a territory capable of supporting sufficient insects of the right type to raise a family, and outside the breeding season many are highly aggressive among their own kind , even erstwhile mates (think of European Robins for example, which regularly kill each other even in the wild).

Adults with juvenile (centre)
Today, with a variety of livefoods of many different types available, and modern formulated diets which are low in iron (many tropical birds, especially from rainforests, are prone to iron retention disease), maintaining and breeding insectivorous passerines is much more feasible. This is just as well, as with the long overdue EU ban on the import of wild caught birds, any passerines to be seen in European Zoos in the future will need to originate from the existing captive population.

In the wild, Superb Starlings are ranked as Least Concern by the IUCN. Adaptable birds, they are as at home around people and farms as European Starlings are, and as they are not crop pests there is nor reason for them to be persecuted. In the wild they feed on fruit and insects, especially when rearing their chicks, which are usually raised in a nest built free standing in a thorn bush. In captivity, they prefer nest boxes with a large entrance hole. The boxes need to be quite large, as the birds are around 18cm long and build a bulky nest. The clutch can be up to four, but two or three is more usual. As with many tropical birds, juveniles from a previous nest may help raising their younger brothers and sisters, but in captivity unless the aviary is quite large it is usual to remove youngsters once the reach independence to avoid possible conflicts if there is insufficient space to get out of the way of each other.

Wild L.superbus in Acacia
The captive lifespan is up to 10 years, and they are quite hardy even in a British climate, as long as they have a frost free shelter to roost in. The captive diet comprises softbill pellets, diced fruit, and insects , usually mealworms. As they feed on the ground they are prone to pick up intestinal worms, and it is advisable to worm them regularly. As with all fruit feeding birds, they tend to produce liquid droppings and wipe their beaks on perches, so clean water for bathing and regular cleaning of perches is essential.

Next week - one of the rarest birds in the world, the Bali Mynah   (images from wikipedia)

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