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Bali starling

Scientific name: Leucopsar rothschildi

Country: Indonesia

Continent: Asia

Diet: Insects - insectivore, fruits - frugivore

Food & feeding: Omnivore

Habitats: Tropical grassland, tropical dry forest

Conservation status: Critically endangered

Relatives: European starling, mynah

Description: The Bali starling is the most beautiful of all the mynahs. It is a thick-set, starling sized bird with snow white plumage and an elegant long white crest. The bare skin on the face is bright blue finishing in a point at the sides of the neck. The tip of its broad tail and the tips of the flight feathers are black, and the beak, feet and legs are bluish-grey. It is endemic to (found only on) the island of Bali and has now been adopted as their national bird. It weighs about 85 grams and is about 25 cm long.

Lifestyle: Bali starlings forage in open forest and grasslands searching for fruits and insects. Water is often hard to find in such places, so juices from ripe fruits are especially important. They are active during the day.

Family & friends: During the breeding season, pairs are generally aggressive towards one another. Outside the breeding season, back when these birds were still plentiful in the wild, families converged into larger feeding flocks.

Keeping in touch: When males and females are courting, they display with a series of head bobbing motions accompanied by a series of clicks and finished off by a loud shriek.

Growing up: In the wild, Bali starlings live to five years, but in captivity they can still breed when they are over twelve years old. Three or four eggs are laid in a nest of twigs in a hollow, often an old woodpecker or barbet hole, or fork of a tree (in captivity a nest box is provided). The eggs are turquoise in colour and hatch after about 14 days; the chicks fledge in about three weeks. The young are mature at 2-3 years and may live for up to 15 years.

Bali starlings in captivity outnumber those in the wild by nearly 200 to 1.

Conservation news: As few as four individual birds may now exist in the wild, making the species in great danger of extinction. Several factors have contributed to its decline including habitat loss, natural disasters and above all, trapping for the pet trade. Caged birds have been kept in Bali for centuries but with the population growth and increased wealth due to tourism, it has become a status symbol to own rare and exotic birds. It is now illegal in Indonesia to keep Bali Starlings as caged birds. Recently a number of birds have been released on an island near Bali. Around 50 birds were released in and around Buddhist temples and have so far fledged 57 chicks.

The Bali starling is part of a European Endangered Species Programme. There is a healthy population of around 700 in zoos around the world, which will hopefully ensure the survival of this species. Priority is given to ensuring the future of captive populations, whilst work is done in Bali where this species has become the flagship for the conservation of the entire island's flora and fauna. Bristol Zoo Gardens actively co-operates with the breeding programme for this species and has bred several birds which have been passed to other collections on the advice of the species co-ordinator. Some captive-bred birds have been returned to Bali and released.