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Superb Starling

Lamprotornis superbus

The superb starling, Lamprotornis superbus, is a small, robust bird with a height of 18 to 19 cm. It boasts a short tail, a long narrow bill, and strong feet. Its plumage is a dazzling display of iridescent blues and greens, a result of light interacting with the structure of the feathers rather than pigmentation. The bird's striking appearance is similar to that of the Hildebrandt's starling, but it can be distinguished by its pale creamy-white eyes and a white breast band in adults.

Identification Tips

Adults have a bronzy-black crown and ear-coverts, with a black lore. Their glossy plumage covers the chin, throat, chest, nape, mantle, back, and uppertail-coverts, with the nape showcasing vibrant blue hues. A slender white strip separates the glossy chest from the red-orange abdomen, flanks, and thighs. The vent and the underside of the tail and wings are white. Their irises are creamy-white, and both legs and bills are black. Superb starlings are sexually monomorphic, meaning males and females are visually similar.

Juvenile Plumage

Juvenile superb starlings have a more subdued plumage with no glossy sheen except on the tail and wing feathers. Their irises are initially brown, later turning grayish white. The bill is pale yellow with a darker tip, and the legs are brown. By seven months, they acquire adult plumage, though the eyes remain dark and the bill's base shows yellow coloring.

Habitat

Superb starlings inhabit savannas, thornbush and acacia arid areas, open woodlands, lakeshore woodlands, gardens, and cultivated fields. They are found at elevations ranging from sea level to 2,650 meters and tend to avoid humid lowland areas.

Distribution

This species is commonly found in East Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, and Tanzania. They occupy large territories, often exceeding 50 hectares.

Behaviour

Superb starlings are known for their social dynamics, forming groups that can exceed 40 individuals with an approximately equal sex ratio. They are territorial during the breeding season, chasing away other species, especially near their nests. They often join mixed-species flocks, which may aid in foraging and predator defense.

Song & Calls

The superb starling's vocal repertoire includes a long and loud song of trills and chatters, a softer midday song, and several harsh calls. Their alarm calls are distinct enough to be recognized by other species, such as vervet monkeys, which respond to the starlings' predator warnings.

Diet and Feeding

Omnivorous and primarily ground feeders, superb starlings feast on insects, berries, small fruits, seeds, and occasionally scavenge on animal carcasses. They are known to extract nectar from sisal flowers and are unafraid of humans, often scavenging around settlements.

Breeding

Breeding seasons vary by region, with October to February in Ethiopia and March to June in Somalia. Displays include running on the ground and jumping with drooping wings and outstretched heads.

Nests

Nests are built in thorn trees, tree holes, cliffs, or rock crevices, often lined with twigs and dry grass. Both sexes contribute to nest building, and nests are sometimes constructed at the base of raptor nests for protection.

Nestling and Parental Care

Eggs are uniformly dark blue, and females lay 3-4 eggs per clutch. Incubation lasts 12-13 days, with a nestling period of 18-24 days. Nestlings are fed insects, and both parents, along with alloparents, participate in offspring care.

Social Dynamics

Superb starlings may choose to remain in their birth group or disperse as immigrants. They experience social benefits and conflicts, with larger groups offering enhanced survival chances and reduced reproductive variance.

Conservation status

The superb starling is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, indicating a stable population without significant threats to its survival.

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