Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Superb Starling, Lamprotornis superbus (sometimes known as the “Spreo” starling because its scientific name was Spreo superbus once), endemic to thornbush and acacia country in Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and East Africa. Photographed at London Zoo’s African Bird Safari. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]

Image: GrrlScientist, 2 September 2008 [larger view].

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Based on the fact that this bird is endemic to many parts of Africa, it has a relatively chunky body, strong feet, a long narrow bill and mostly dark plumage with a metallic sheen, we can safely say that it is a sturnid, or starling species. African starlings are often known as “glossy starlings” due to the intense sheen to their plumage, while Asian sturnids, especially the larger species, are usually referred to as mynah birds.

There are two starlings in Africa that are superficially similar and they can even be found flocking together in Kenya, at least: the extremely common Superb Starling, Lamprotornis superbus, and the much less common Hildebrandt’s Starling, L. hildebrandti. Despite their physical similarities, adults of these two species can be easily distinguished by eye color and plumage. The eye is bright red in Hildebrandt’s starlings, but is a pale creamy-white in the Superb starling; and by the presence or absence of a white breast band — even though their plumages are variable, only adult Superb starlings have this white band. So, based on what we see in the above bird, we can safely say that this is an adult Superb Starling.

Review all mystery birds to date.

Comments

  1. #1 JohnB
    November 9, 2008

    A Superb Starling. The white eyes and narrow white breast band distinguish it from similar rufous-bellied starlings in E. Africa. And it is, well…superb.

  2. #2 travelgirl
    November 9, 2008

    incredible that i can know a superb starling and not know some of the gulls i see every day :)

  3. #3 John Callender
    November 9, 2008

    A few minute’s googling for “african birds” turns up that it is the Superb Starling, based on the overall plumage pattern.

  4. #4 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2008

    Indeedy, the Superb Starling –Lamprotornis superbus. Was just in Kenya in May, and they are everywhere. Can’t mistake the luminous body colours and black head with the startlingly pale eye.

    They are rather more fearless than European starlings. European starlings (spotted and non-potted both) are clowns in a flock and cowards on their own — these guys just don’t care, they’re all over you for whatever they can beg or steal by way of food. They’ll come right up onto the table to raid your plate while you’re eating. o_0

  5. #5 Tualha
    November 9, 2008

    Hmm. It’s dressed in red, white and blue. It looks seriously pissed off. It has a small brain. Someone call Faux News, we have a new “fair and balanced” commentator for them!
    :-D

  6. #6 Grant
    November 10, 2008

    I’m reminded of the Bluethroat, as many know, another fine bird. I would’ve had to look at my international, and packed in a box, encyclopedia. Glad some can get around the world birding.