Mystery Bird: Superb Starling, Lamprotornis superbus

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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.


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Superb Starling, Lamprotornis superbus

  1. JohnB says:

    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. travelgirl says:

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

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

  4. Luna_the_cat says:

    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. Tualha says:

    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!

  6. Grant says:

    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.