Saturday, 20 July 2013

Passerines 2: Asian Glossy Starling

Asian Glossy Starling
Living in the forest of birds, where they usually make their presence known by a typical metallic call from among the foliage, is a small group of Asian Glossy Starlings, Aplonis panayensis. Aplonis starlings are widespread throughout the islands of SE Asia, with at least 21 species described, several with endemic subspecies, and further three are known to have become extinct, with a fourth, the Pohnpei Starling A. pelzelni, either extinct or on the verge of extinction.

Long-Tailed Starling
The centre of distribution of the genus appears to be New Guinea, which has the most endemic forms. Most are classed as Least Concern, though some, especially those endemic to islands or small areas of New Guinea, are classed as Near Threatened. The extinct forms were all believed to have been wiped out by introduced rats.

As a group, starlings are famous for their iridescent plumage, and this is very obvious in Asian Glossy Starlings. The basic plumage colour is black, overlaid by a green iridescence and set of by a red eye. In life, as with most iridescent birds, they are far more spectacular than in field guides or photographs. Juvenile birds are brown with streaked underparts. For a Youtube video of adults with young see here:

Asian Glossy Starlings are very adaptable birds, with a wide distribution from the Philippines through Indonesia and Malaysia into north east India. As you might guess from its colour, it is a forest dweller, spending most of its life in the canopy where it feeds on fruit, especially figs, and insects, with occasional nectar as well if it is available. It is quite happy to live alongside man in villages, and even breeds in the roofs of houses, but the sole human threat appears to be trapping for the local cage bird trade, which is extensive in Indonesia.

The birds are highly sociable, and often form large flocks, both outside the breeding season and during it, when they may breed colonially. Nests are made in woodpecker holes, the crowns of palm trees, and artificial sites, including nest boxes. The eggs are blue or blue-green with brown spots, and there are usually 3 or 4 in a clutch. I do not have data on what the chicks are raised on, but going by other starlings it is probably various orthopteran insects such as crickets, and adult and larval beetles.

After the breeding season they may disperse, sometimes by night over quite long distances, even over the sea. In Assam it appears to be a summer migrant, but where they go to winter is unknown – probably further south and east to where they can find fruiting trees and insects.

(images from wikipedia)

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