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Aviary Birds: the Violet-Backed or Amethyst Starling – Part 2

Amethyst Starlings in Captivity

Please see Part I of this article for information about the natural history of the amethyst starling.  More popular with European than American aviculturists, amethyst starlings (Cinnyricinlus leucogaster) are none-the-less regularly bred in this country.  In my opinion, those looking to expand their collection can ask for no more interesting an avian project than keeping a pair of amethyst starlings.  They will require a huge enclosure – one of our larger outdoor aviaries would be ideal – and indoor winter quarters in most of the USA, but are well-worth the effort.

Reproduction and Hand-Rearing

Incubation lasts for approximately 14 days.  The chicks fledge at day 18-22, after which they are fed by the parents for an additional 10 days or so.  Adult starlings have been seen to cover their eggs with leaves when departing from the nest.

The chicks, being ravenous feeders and taking a wide variety of foods, are not difficult to hand rear.  I have hand-raised chicks of the closely related European starling (see photos) for use in educational programs; without fail they became amazingly tame and confiding – curious about everything and a source of great pleasure for thousands of school children.


The appetite of the amethyst starling, like that of nearly all its relatives, is expansive and easy to satisfy.  They feed with gusto, and do best on a varied diet.  Diets I use in zoos and at home are based around such foods as myna and softbill pellets, fruit pudding, mixed fruits and vegetables and nearly any live or canned insect available.  An occasional dead pink mouse or hard boiled egg will be devoured with very evident pleasure.

Further Reading

You can read about the Jacksonville Zoo’s amethyst starlings at



Amethyst Starling image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by LTShears

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

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