Starlings and Mynas: Sturnidae
STARLINGS AND MYNAS: SturnidaeCOMMON MYNA (Acridotheres tristis): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
RED-BILLED OXPECKER (Buphagus erythrorhynchus): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
Starlings and mynas (MYE-nahz), also called sturnids, are stocky, small- to medium-sized birds with strong, straight bills (either thin and pointed or somewhat blunt, depending on the species), short wings that are rounded (in forest and resident species) and somewhat longer (in open country and migrant species), a short squared-off tail, and strong legs. Many species have plumage (feathers) that is black or dark, while others are white or other colors, and still others are iridescent (brilliant colors). Many species have colorful bare facial skin or wattles (skin that hangs from throat). They often have long, narrow feathers on the neck, with those of the males being most noticeable.
Mynas have a dark brown body, black head and tail, bright yellow bill and legs, and often display white wing patches on the primary feathers. Starlings are mainly glossy green and purple with large buffy-white spots at the tips of feathers. Bills are dark brown in winter, but turn yellow in spring. Starlings molt (lose, then re-grow, feathers) once a year, following breeding, but seasonal differences are found in some species. Adult starlings and mynas are 7 to 17 inches (18 to 43 centimeters) long and weigh between 1.0 and 3.8 ounces (30 and 105 grams).
Starlings and mynas range through Africa (except for northern regions), Eurasia (except for northern areas), the South Pacific, and southeastern Australia. The birds have been introduced onto all continents except for South America and Antarctica, and on many oceanic islands.
These birds are located in barren semideserts, temperate (mild) grasslands, tropical savannas (flat grasslands), tropical rainforests, dry to moist evergreen and deciduous forest, and agricultural and urban areas.
They eat mostly insects, but also fruits, berries, grains, dead fish, garbage, and nectar. The birds often eat different foods depending on the time of year and availability of certain foods. They probe for food by opening its bill into materials, pushing loose particles apart, and creating an open area in which to look for food.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Most starlings and mynas are fairly social birds. Some live in trees, but most spend much time on the ground. They often nest in loose colonies (birds that live together and are dependent on each other). Some species are aggressive, while others are shy and quiet, generally staying by themselves or in small groups. Their songs and calls are loud, varied, sometimes unpleasant and mechanical sounding, and rarely with any melody. Many species can imitate other birds. Starlings and mynas fly swiftly and can easily maneuver, even twisting and turning together in flocks. Species that nest in temperate climates often migrate to warmer climates during winters.
Most sturnids use the nests of other birds, often barbets and woodpeckers, many times taking away a bird's nest with its aggressive behavior. Other sturnids use crevices and holes in rocks, nest boxes, or recesses in building and other structures. They construct a large nest of grasses, leaves, fine twigs, and other available materials. Both sexes work together to make the nest, and nests are often reused.
All of the 200 million or so European starlings that are found today in North America came from approximately 100 birds that were released in New York City's Central Park in the early 1890s. An American society dedicated to introducing all birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works set these birds free. The migrating birds reached northern Florida by the winter of 1918, and breeding birds were found by the 1920s in Ontario and Maine. By the 1940s, European starlings reached the west coast and, in the 1970s, the birds were seen in Alaska.
Starling eggs are often pale blue, but also white to cream-colored or have dark spots on them. In some cases, only females incubate (sit on) eggs, while in other cases both parents incubate. The incubation period (time to sit on eggs before hatching) is usually less than fourteen days. Hatchlings (newly born birds) are pink with some patches of down on top of head and back. They are blind for the first few days of life. Both parents feed young and, in some cases, helpers (from earlier offspring) assist in the feeding and care. The fledgling period (time for young to grow feathers necessary to fly) is usually no longer than twenty-one days. Many species produce one to three broods (young birds that are born and raised together) each year.
STARLINGS, MYNAS, AND PEOPLE
Many species are considered agricultural pests. Some occur in such great numbers in urban areas that their acidic droppings damage buildings and monuments and cause health risks. Many species are considered beneficial because they help control insect pests. Others help to scatter seeds around. Starlings and mynas are often captured for food.
Five species of starlings and mynas are listed as Extinct (died out within historic times); two species as Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction; two species as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction; five species as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction; and eight species as Near Threatened, in danger of becoming threatened with extinction.
Physical characteristics: Common mynas are stocky, brown birds with a glossy black head and throat; yellow bill; bare yellow skin behind the eyes; and yellow legs. Females and males are familiar in appearance, while juveniles are duller in colors. Adults are 9.1 to 9.8 inches (23 to 25 centimeters) long and weigh between 2.9 and 5.0 ounces (82 and 143 grams).
Geographic range: They are found in lowlands and to elevations of 4,500 feet (1,370 meters) in southern Asia from southeastern Iran though Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, southern China, and Vietnam. They have been introduced in Arabia (the peninsula in far southwestern Asia), South Africa, Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Cook Islands, Society Islands, Hivaoa in the Marquesas Islands, and Hawaii.
Habitat: Common mynas inhabit open habitats such as farmlands and cities.
Diet: Their diet consists of insects, small vertebrates (animals with backbone), carrion (decaying animals), fruits, grains, and occasionally on eggs and the nestlings (young bird unable to leave nest) of other birds. They feed mostly on the ground.
Behavior and reproduction: Common mynas are tame, bold, and noisy birds; usually seen in pairs or small flocks. They build bulky nests in tree cavities, pockets in buildings, and in heavy vegetation. Females lay four to five glossy, pale blue eggs. The incubation period is thirteen to eighteen days. Both parents incubate the eggs. The nestlings may leave the nest at around twenty-two days or longer, but may still not be able to fly for another seven days or so.
Common mynas and people: Common mynas are considered a pest in Australia where thousands of noisy birds roost near populated areas. They are also considered a pest when they eat grain or fruit from agricultural lands.
Conservation status: Common mynas are not threatened. ∎
Physical characteristics: European starlings are a purple-green iridescent, short-tailed black bird with a long thin bill that changes seasonally from black in winter to yellow during the nesting period, and buffy-to-white tips and edging on feathers. Following the fall molt, the birds are very spotted with white as a result of white-tipped body feathers. As winter continues, the white tips wear off and the birds show mostly the iridescent black with little spotting. Males have longer, narrower neck feathers and, during nesting season, a blue base to the bill. Females have a pink base to the bill. Juveniles are gray-brown with a streaked breast and dark bill. Adults are about 8.5 inches (21.6 centimeters) long, with a wingspan of about 15.5 inches (39.4 centimeters).
Geographic range: The birds range throughout most of temperate Eurasia from Iceland east. They have been introduced in South Africa, Polynesia, (Fiji and Tonga), Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, North America (across both coasts, Pacific and Atlantic, and southern Alaska into Mexico), Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.
Habitat: European starlings are found in open country, open woods, and urban and suburban areas.
Diet: The birds eat many types of insects, other arthropods, grains, and fruits. They usually feed off the ground, and often in large flocks.
Behavior and reproduction: European starlings are aggressive birds that often fight with woodpeckers who have built nests or who are already using nests. They roost in flocks that may number in the millions. Their songs include melodies, clear whistles, clatters, and twitters, and they sometimes imitate other bird species, and even human voices. They build nests either alone or in loose colonies, mostly from March to May in the Northern Hemisphere, and September to December in South Africa. Females lay three to six pale blue eggs, and incubate them alone. The incubation period is eleven to fifteen days. Both parents feed the young. The fledgling period is eighteen to twenty-one days, and two to three broods are produced each year.
European starlings and people: European starlings eat many insect pests and weed seeds so are seen as beneficial in that respect. They are considered a pest in North America because of huge numbers within flocks, building messy nests on buildings, taking grains and fruits from agricultural lands, and competing with songbirds and woodpeckers for nest sites.
Conservation status: European starlings are not threatened. ∎
Physical characteristics: Red-billed oxpeckers have olive-brown or gray-brown upperparts, a red short, thick bill, red eyes with very noticeable yellow circles of flesh around the eyes; light gray-brown wings and tail; tan or pale yellow rump and breast, and gray legs and feet. Juveniles have a dark bill and eyes, and brown area around the eyes. Adults are 7.5 to 8.7 inches (19 to 22 centimeters) long and weigh between 1.5 and 2.1 ounces (42 and 59 grams).
Geographic range: They range widely in east and southeast Africa with a scattered distribution from western Central African Republic, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, south in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, eastern and southern Democratic Republic of the Congo to northern and eastern South Africa.
Habitat: Red-billed oxpeckers live in open savannas, bushlands, and forests (up to elevations of 9,000 feet (2,745 meters) that contain large mammals including domestic livestock.
Diet: The birds feed on parasites (organism living on another) such as ticks, fleas, and other biting flies taken from host mammals and on host blood and dead tissues and skin. They can eat hundreds of these parasites each day.
Behavior and reproduction: Red-billed oxpeckers remain in the same area and do not migrate. They live alongside large mammals and are often found perching (sitting) on the heads and necks of rhinoceros, elephants, giraffes, and cape buffaloes. Courtship often takes place on the backs of these host mammals. Breeding occurs at different times in different areas, often at the beginning of the rainy season but has been reported in all months. They build nests in natural tree cavities made of grasses lined with hair and dung. Females lay one to five creamy white eggs with brown to lilac speckles. The incubation period is twelve to thirteen days, and is done by both parents. Both parents and helpers feed the young. The fledgling period is about thirty days, but remain dependent on the parents for another thirty days.
Red-billed oxpeckers and people: People often consider red-billed oxpeckers as pests, especially around livestock. Extermination programs have been carried out in various agricultural areas to kill off the birds.
Conservation status: Red-billed oxpeckers are listed as Not Threatened. Their numbers have declined in areas that use pesticides to control the birds around livestock. ∎
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Alsop, Fred J. III. Birds of North America. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2001.
Baughman, Mel M., ed. Reference Atlas to the Birds of North America. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2003.
del Hoyo, Josep, Andrew Elliott, Jordi Sargatal, Jose Cabot, et al., eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 1992.
Dickinson, Edward C., ed. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, 3rd ed. Princeton, NJ and Oxford, U.K.: Princeton University Press, 2003.
Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 4th ed. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2002.
Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopedia of Birds, 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1998.
Harrison, Colin James Oliver. Birds of the World. London and New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1993.
Kaufman, Kenn, with collaboration of Rick and Nora Bowers and Lynn Hassler Kaufman. Birds of North America. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Sibley, David. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Terres, John K. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Knopf, 1980.