name = Starlings

image_width = 250px
image_caption = European Starling, "Sturnus vulgaris"
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Aves
ordo = Passeriformes
subordo = Passeri
familia = Sturnidae
familia_authority = Rafinesque, 1815
subdivision_ranks = Genera
subdivision = Nearly 30, see text.

Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds in the family Sturnidae. The name "Sturnidae" comes from the Latin word for Starling, "sturnus". Starlings occur naturally in the Old World, from Europe, Asia and Africa, to 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 habitat with native birds and are considered to be invasive species.

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 food by opening the bill after probing it into dense vegetation; this behavior is called "open-bill probing" or is referred to by the German word "zirkeln" (pronounced|ˈtsɪʁkl̩n). Plumage is typically dark with a metallic sheen. Most species nest in holes, laying blue or white eggs.

Many Asian species, particularly the larger ones, are called mynas, and many African species are known as glossy starlings because of their iridescent plumage.

The shortest-bodied species is Kenrick's Starling ("Poeoptera kenricki"), at 15 centimetres (6 in), but the lightest-weight species is Abbott's Starling ("Poeoptera femoralis"), at 34 grams (1.2 oz). The largest starlings are the mynas of the genus "Mino", especially the Yellow-faced ("Mino dumontii") and Long-tailed Mynas ("Mino kreffti"). These mynas can exceed 30 centimetres (1 ft) and weigh over 225 grams (8 oz).


Starlings have diverse and complex vocalizations, and have been known to imbed sounds from their surroundings into their own calls, including car alarms, and human speech patterns. The birds can recognize particular individuals by their calls, and are currently the subject of research into the evolution of human language. [ [ New York Times, May 2, 2006] ]


The starlings belong to the superfamily Muscicapoidea, together with thrushes, flycatchers and chats, as well as dippers which are quite distant and Mimidae (thrashers and mockingbirds). The latter are apparently the Sturnidae's closest living relatives, replace them in the Americas, and have a rather similar but more solitary lifestyle. They are morphologically quite similar too - a partly albinistic specimen of a mimid, mislabelled as to suggest an Old World origin, was for many decades believed to represent an extinct starling (see Rodrigues Starling for details).The oxpeckers are sometimes placed here as a subfamily, but the weight of evidence has shifted towards granting them full family status as a more basal member of the Sturnidae-Mimidae group, derived from an early expansion into Africa.

Usually the starlings are considered a family, as is done here. Sibley & Monroe (1990) included the mimids in the family and demoted the starlings to tribe rank, as Sturnini. This treatment was used by Zuccon "et al." (2006). However, the grouping of Sibley & Monroe (besides leaving the subfamily rank vacantVerify source|date=July 2007) is overly coarse due to methodological drawbacks of their DNA-DNA hybridization technique and most of their proposed revisions of taxonomic rank have not been accepted (see for example Ciconiiformes). The all-inclusive Sturnidae grouping is all but noninformative as regards biogeography, and obscures the evolutionary distinctness of the three lineages. Establishing a valid name for the clade consisting of Sibley/Monroe's "pan-Sturnidae" would nonetheless be desirable to contrast them with the other major lineages of Muscicapoidea.

Starlings probably originated in the general area of the East Asia, perhaps towards the southwestern Pacific, as evidenced by the number of plesiomorphic lineages to occur there. Expansion into Africa appears to have occurred later, as most derived forms are found there. An alternative scenario would be African origin for the entire "sturnoid" (as per Zuccon "et al." 2006) group, with the oxpeckers representing an ancient relict and the mimids arriving in South America. This is contradicted by the North American distribution of the most basal Mimidae.(Cibois & Cracraft 2004, Zuccon "et al." 2006)

As the fossil record is limited to quite Recent forms, the proposed Early Miocene (about 25-20 mya) divergence dates for the "sturnoids" lineages must be considered extremely tentative. Given the overall evidence for origin of most Passeri families in the first half of the Miocene, it appears to be not too far off the mark however.(Zuccon "et al." 2006)Recent studies (Cibois & Cracraft 2004, Zuccon "et al." 2006) identified two major clades of this family, corresponding to the generally drab, often striped, largish "atypical mynas" and other mainly Asian-Pacific lineages, and the often smaller, sometimes highly apomorphic taxa which are most common in Africa and the Palearctic, usually have metallic coloration, and in a number of species also bright carotinoid plumage colors on the underside. Inside this latter group, there is a clade consisting of species which, again, are usually not too brightly-colored, and which consists of the "typical" myna-"Sturnus" assemblage.

Interestingly, the Philippine creepers, a single genus of 3 species of treecreeper-like birds appear to be highly apomorphic members of the more initial radiation of the Sturnidae (Zuccon "et al." 2006). While this may seem odd ad first glance, their placement has always been contentious. In addition, biogeography virtually rules out a close relationship of Philippine creepers and treecreepers, as neither the latter nor their close relatives seem have ever reached the Wallacea, let alone the Philippines. Nonetheless, their inclusion in the Sturnidae is not entirely final and eventually they may remain a separate family.

Genus sequence follows traditional treatments. This is apparently not entirely correct, with "Scissirostrum" closer to "Aplonis" than to "Gracula" for example, and "Acridotheres" among the most advanced genera. Too few taxa have already been studied as regards their relationships however, and thus a change in sequence has to wait.

The review by Lovette & Rubenstein (2008) is the most recent work on the phylogeny of the group. [cite journal|author=Lovette, I., McCleery, B., Talaba, A., & Rubenstein, D.|year=2008|title=A complete species-level molecular phylogeny for the “Eurasian” starlings (Sturnidae: Sturnus, Acridotheres, and allies): Recent diversification in a highly social and dispersive avian group.|journal=Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution|volume= 47|issue=1|pages=251-260|doi=10.1016/j.ympev.2008.01.020 |url=]

Oriental-Australasian clade

* Genus "Rhabdornis" – Philippine creepers (3 species; placement here requires confirmation)

* Genus "Aplonis" – Pacific starlings (c.20 living species, 4-5 recently extinct)

* Genus "Mino"
** Yellow-faced Myna, "Mino dumontii"
** Golden Myna, "Mino anais"
** Long-tailed Myna, "Mino kreffti"

* Genus "Basilornis"
** Sulawesi Myna, "Basilornis celebensis"
** Helmeted Myna, "Basilornis galeatus"
** Long-crested Myna, "Basilornis corythaix"
** Apo Myna, "Basilornis mirandus"
* Genus "Sarcops" - Coleto

* Genus "Streptocitta"
** White-necked Myna, "Streptocitta albicollis"
** Bare-eyed Myna, "Streptocitta albertinae"

* Genus "Enodes" - Fiery-browed Myna

* Genus "Scissirostrum" - Finch-billed Myna

* Genus "Ampeliceps" – Golden-crested Myna

* Genus "Gracula" – hill mynas (5 species)

Afrotropical-Palearctic clade

* Genus "Acridotheres" – typical mynas (8 species)

* Genus "Leucopsar" – Bali Starling

* Genus "Sturnia" (often included in "Sturnus")
** Daurian Starling, "Sturnia sturnina"
** Chestnut-cheeked Starling, "Sturnia philippensis"
** White-shouldered Starling, "Sturnia sinensis"
** White-headed Starling, "Sturnia erythropygia"

* Genus "Sturnus" – typical starlings (about 12 species; includes probably valid genera "Gracupica", "Pastor" and "Temenuchus"; but highly paraphyletic)

* Genus "Creatophora" – Wattled Starling

* Genus "Notopholia" (sometimes placed in "Lamprotornis")
** Black-bellied Glossy-starling, "Notopholia corrusca"Verify source|date=July 2007

* Genus "Coccycolius" – Iris Glossy-starling or Emerald Starling (sometimes placed in "Lamprotornis")
* Genus "Lamprotornis" – typical glossy-starlings (20 species; monophyly requires confirmation)

* Genus "Cinnyricinclus" - Violet-backed Starling

* Genus "Poeoptera" (formerly "Pholia", sometimes included in "Cinnyricinclus")
** Sharpe's Starling, "Poeoptera sharpii"
** Abbott's Starling, "Poeoptera femoralis"

* Genus "Saroglossa" (possibly paraphyletic)
** Spot-winged Starling, "Saroglossa spiloptera"
** Madagascar Starling, "Saroglossa aurata"

* Genus "Spreo" (paraphyletic with "Lamprotornis" and might be included there)
** African Pied Starling, "Spreo bicolor"
** Fischer's Starling, "Spreo fischeri"
** White-crowned Starling, "Spreo albicapillus"

* Genus "Compsarus"
** Golden-breasted Starling, "Compsarus regius" (sometimes placed in "Lamprotornis")
** Ashy Starling, "Compsarus unicolor" (sometimes placed in "Spreo")

* Genus "Onychognathus"
** 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"

* Genus "Poeoptera"
** Narrow-tailed Starling, "Poeoptera lugubris"
** Stuhlmann's Starling, "Poeoptera stuhlmanni"
** Kenrick's Starling, "Poeoptera kenricki"

* Genus "Grafisia" - White-collared Starling

* Genus "Speculipastor" – Magpie Starling

* Genus "Neocichla" - Babbling Starling


The extinct Mascarene starlings are of uncertain relationships. Only one species is known from specimens taken while the bird was still extant; the other remains only known from subfossil bones and apparently one early traveller's description. The supposed "Leguat's Starling" ("Necropsar leguati") was eventually determined to be a mislabeled albino specimen of the Martinique Trembler ("Cinclocerthia gutturalis"), a mimid.

As the avifauna of the Mascarenes is predominantly of Indian origin though as old as to be highly distinct, it is not clear to which clade these starlings belong - or even if they are indeed starlings, as the Réunion Starling at least was highly aberrant and there have always been lingering doubts about whether they are correctly placed here.
* Genus "Fregilupus" – Réunion Starling (extinct, 1850s)

* Genus "Necropsar" – Rodrigues Starling (extinct, late 18th century?)


* (2004). Assessing the passerine 'tapestry': phylogenetic relationships of the Muscicapoidea inferred from nuclear DNA sequences. "Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution" 32(1): 264–273. doi|10.1016/j.ympev.2003.12.002 (HTML)
* (in press): A comprehensive molecular phylogeny of the starlings (Aves: Sturnidae). "Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution". doi|10.1016/j.ympev.2007.03.017 [ Preprint PDF fulltext]
* (2002): "Field Guide to the Birds of North America". National Geographic, Washington DC. ISBN 0-792-26877-6
* (1990): "Distribution and taxonomy of the birds of the world: A Study in Molecular Evolution". Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. ISBN 0-300-04969-2
*aut|Zuccon, Dario; Cibois, Alice; Pasquet, Eric & Ericson, Per G.P. (2006): Nuclear and mitochondrial sequence data reveal the major lineages of starlings, mynas and related taxa. "Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution" 41(2): 333-344. doi|10.1016/j.ympev.2006.05.007 (HTML abstract)


External links

* [ Starling videos] on the Internet Bird Collection

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