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Scintillating Starlings

Some of the most beautiful birds in the world are ... starlings
© Nathan Rupert CC View Large

In Africa, where there are dozens of starling species, a quick look reveals a variety of visual stunners. Some of the names hint at their dazzle: Superb Starling, as well as Golden-breasted, Emerald, Purple, Violet-backed, and Splendid Glossy Starlings. Starlings sparkle because they have special extra structures in their feather cells called melanosomes.

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Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Scintillating Starlings

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

Some of the most beautiful birds in the world are… starlings?!

[Superb Starling flock sounds, https://www.xeno-canto.org/107598  0.03-.08]

In Africa, where there are dozens of starling species, a quick look reveals a variety of visual stunners. Some of the names hint at their dazzle: Superb Starling. Golden-breasted Starling. And Emerald, Purple, and Violet-backed Starlings. Just imagine a Splendid Glossy Starling outside your window!

[Superb Starling, https://www.xeno-canto.org/300384  0.0-0.6]

A quick view of the Superb Starling shows a fantastically shiny bird with a deep blue head and breast, black face, aquamarine wings, and a flame-orange belly.

African starlings have taken glossy plumage to new heights. The secret lies in their melanosomes (pronounced muh-LAN-uh-sohmz), rod-shaped structures in birds’ feather cells that carry dark pigment. In birds that sparkle, these rods are organized in ways that glisten under the light.

Since starlings first appeared in Africa 17 million years ago, they have evolved three new forms of rod shapes in addition to the ancient one. This is the only group of birds to possess all four different rods.

New shapes of rods meant new ways of interacting with light and the emergence of new, more colorful feathers. This variety of colors pushed the rapid evolution of a wide range of African starling species, each with its own scintillating feathers—a wonderland of starlings.

[Superb Starling, https://www.xeno-canto.org/300384  0.0-0.6]

I’m Michael Stein.

###
 
Bird sounds provided by the Xeno-canto Foundation. Recorded by Martin St-Michel and Peter Boesman.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2018 Tune In to Nature.org   September 2018   Narrator: Michael Stein
 
ID# starling-01-2018-09-27    starling-01

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/

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