Asian Glossy Starling: A portrait

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I am never tired of watching groups of Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis) feasting on the fruits of my Alexandra palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae). I have four palms that are more than 20 years old. They regularly flower and fruit such that there are always ripe fruits throughout the year. Small groups fly in at different times of the day, adults as well as juveniles, to swallow the fruits whole. They move from fruiting branch to fruiting branch, picking the choicest fruits. Many times the fruits failed to end up inside the birds but fell on to the ground below. At times the birds hung by their feet, their heads directed downwards as they reached for fruits below (left).

These Asian Glossy Starlings, also known as Philippine Glossy Starlings, are common residents, found in almost all habitats throughout Singapore. At a glance they appear black with shiny red eyes. On closer scrutiny, the plumage is actually a dark glossy green. Hails (1987) drew attention to its plumage, that “can change from brilliant green through purple to black, depending on how the sun strikes them.” The sexes look alike except that the female is slighter smaller. The juvenile looks not at all like the adult. The cream breast is heavily streaked with black while the back is green-grey. It is often mistaken for a female by birders new to the scene.

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This is a social bird that moves in compact flocks. They love to congregate on TV aerials (above) and at night they join other flocks in large communal roosts. They may even join mynas in a mixed roost. Just before descending on their favourite trees, they perform impressive aerial displays, said to attract others to join them.

The call is a ringing whistle in flight and a metallic ink when perched (Strange, 2000).

Food is a variety of fruits like tembusu (Fagraea fragrans), Alexandra palm, MacArthur palm (Ptychosperma macarthurii), fishtail palm (Caryota mitis), salam (Syzygium polyanthum), figs… The adult as well as the juvenile swallow the large Alexandra palm fruits whole, to regurgitate the seeds some time later (right, juvenile). It is possible that it also swallow other palm fruits with smaller seeds like the MacArthur and fishtail palms. It also feeds on insects, often seen feasting termites when they swarm (Wells, 2007)

The bird breeds throughout the year. Nest is a simple cavity in a tree or any man-made cavities. It also nests in the eaves of houses or even in the frond-axils of palms. Three or even four blue eggs, sparsely spotted and blotched with dark brown, are laid.

YC Wee
Singapore
December 2011

References:
1. Hails, Christopher (1987). Birds of Singapore. Times Editions, Singapore.
2. Strange, M. (2000). A photographic guide to the birds of Malaysia and Singapore. Periplus Editions, Hongkong.
3. Wells, D.R. (2007). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. II, Passerines. Christopher Helm, London.

2 Responses

  1. Howard Banwell

    They are indeed lovely birds, and although common and widespread, not a species one ever tires of observing

  2. […] One interesting behavior is that all three species swallow the fruits whole. I suspect that they subsequently regurgitate the seeds. However, there is no photographic evidence, although these starlings do regurgitate fruits of the Alexandra Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae) Link. […]

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