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Aviary Birds: the Violet-Backed or Amethyst Starling


Violet-backed StarlingI must admit to a certain affection for starlings…this in spite of the fact that the introduced European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a serious avian pest (note the Latin name!).  However, I have rehabilitated quite a few, and found them to be quite as intelligent as their better-loved cousin, the Indian hill myna.  I was also shocked at the speaking abilities of a starling maintained for years at the American Museum of Natural History – in marked contrast to his stuffed companions, this lively fellow spoke as well as most parrots!  But for pure beauty and personality, few can match the amethyst starling, Cinnyricinlus leucogaster.

Starlings in Zoos and Nature

Working at the Bronx Zoo put me in contact with several gorgeous starling species, including the amethyst, superb and glossy.  In a huge exhibit teeming with African birds of every description, it was a pair of amethysts that regularly stole the show with their brilliant colors and bold demeanors.

One of the most striking of the world’s 114 starling species, male amethysts are clad in a deep violet set off by a brilliant white breast.  In the sunlight, they are, like most starlings, as iridescent as any hummingbird (even the rather drab European starling is quite showy in its winter plumage).

Range and Habitat

Amethyst starlings range widely over much of Sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal in the west to Tanzania in the east, and south to northern South Africa.  Inhabiting open woodlands, forest edges and river valleys, they are not uncommon, but, staying to the treetops, are less evident than other starlings (its hard not to be aware of most starlings!).


Pairs form in the mating season, after which the birds separate into small flocks.  In contrast to those starlings that have been well-studied, amethyst flocks are usually composed of a single sex.


Amethyst starlings take a wide variety of food, including moths, katydids, spiders, snails and other invertebrates, tree frogs, lizards, carrion and a wide variety of fruits, buds and sprouts.  Like most starlings, they are not above pillaging the nests of other birds, taking both nestlings and chicks.


Further Reading

An interesting, in-depth survey of the wildlife inhabiting amethyst starling habitat in Cameroon is posted at http://www.ioe.ucla.edu/ctr/reports/Faunal.pdf.

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by LTShears


  1. avatar

    Hi I’d like to know about violet backed starling. I have a mail 8 days now. Let me know he is able to singing? Thank you!!

  2. avatar


    They make 15 or more different sounds and calls when communicating; males are not known for singing ability, but they do produce somewhat of a song during the nesting season; you can hear recordings of some of their sounds here. Enjoy, best, Frank

  3. avatar

    Thank you for your answer!!!

  4. avatar

    My pleasure, I hope all goes well, best,. frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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