Thursday, 1 August 2013

Passerines 3: Bali Starling

The last, and rarest, of the starlings we have at Bristol is one of the most beautiful of the group, the Bali Starling (or Mynah) Leucopsar rothschildi. Only scientifically described in 1912, it is endemic to the island of Bali in Indonesia, and is the only surviving endemic vertebrate. Bali is densely populated, and the resultant habitat destruction resulting of conversion of its native habitat for agriculture means that it is classed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Unlike most starlings, which often feed on the ground, Bali Starlings feed by gleaning through the canopy, searching for fruit and insects. They nest in holes in trees, both those excavated by other birds and natural cavities. As with most starlings, male and female are identical, and the song of the male is a series of wheezes and crackles.

The current status of the Bali Starling is a textbook case of the contrast between different methods of conservation. Initially, several reserves were created for the birds in the remaining habitat, and a great deal of money was spent on guards, reintroduction programmes and the like. As might be expected, a good deal of corruption ensued, especially as the birds became prized in the cage bird trade, both within Indonesia and internationally, despite regulations and CITES protection. At one point in 1999, 39 birds awaiting release were all stolen, and in 2008 it was estimated that there were around 50 individuals in the wild in West Bali National Park.

All of these efforts were coordinated by the Indonesian government, which understandably has a lot on its plate running such a vast and diverse country. In 1997 a local group, Friends of the National Park Foundation, stepped in with a more localised approach. Working on the small island group of Nusa Penida, just south east of Bali, they obtained cooperation with the local villagers to make the entire island group a wildlife sanctuary. From an initial release of 64 captive bred birds in 2006 and 2007, the population has already increased to an estimated 150 individuals in 2012. This is of course still a tiny population, but the success is plain. It has also received international recognition, with birds donated from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Jurong Bird Park, and various European zoos. The aim of these was to increase the genetic diversity of the released population, and so far it has spread from Nusa Penida to two neighbouring islands, and is currently breeding very successfully.

For more on the work of the FNPF, including work with other species, their website can be found here:
Meanwhile, the captive population both within and outside Indonesia is also breeding regularly. Unlike some other species, Bali Mynahs appear to be fairly adaptable in their husbandry requirements, and at Bristol ours can be seen in their outside aviary year round, although they have heated quarters to enter at night. Their nest box is in the outside area, and our current pair has produced several rounds of chicks. For husbandry requirements for Bali Mynahs, see the AZA SSP Husbandry Manual here:
(photos taken at Bristol Zoo by me)

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