Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Bali Starling

            The Bali starling is one of the rarest birds in the world and relatively new to science being first described in 1912 by Walter Rothschild, from whom the bird gains its specific name. This medium-large starling is almost entirely white apart from black wing- and tail-tips and the striking, bare blue skin around the eye. The crest is long and drooping, the bill is yellow and the legs are a greyish blue.


            The Bali starling is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List, and listed on Appendix I of CITES. Conservationists now in fact think that the species may be extinct in the wild, but this is yet to be formerly confirmed.


            This species is endemic to the island of Bali, Indonesia, where it formerly ranged across the north-west third of the island. It has perhaps long been uncommon (numbers in the early 1900s, the period of discovery, have been retrospectively guessed at 300-900, although this is thought to be a gross underestimate), but has declined drastically in population and range. Illegal poaching reduced numbers to a critically low level in 1990, when the wild population was estimated at c.15 birds. Conservation intervention coupled with the release of a few captive-bred birds raised this to between 35 and 55. However, despite excellent breeding success and continuing conservation efforts, the population continues to fluctuate and fell to six birds in 2011. Continuing releases have raised numbers in West Bali National Park, such that surveys in March 2005 found 24 individuals2 and in 2008 the population here was believed to be around 50 birds. The population appears to have adapted to the island and is breeding, with a total of 65 adults and 62 young at present. About 1,000 are believed to survive in captivity.


            Inhabits monsoon forest and acacia savannah of Bali, Indonesia.


            The Bali starling is endemic to the island Bali in Indonesia and previously found throughout the northwest of the island.


         The breeding season runs from October to November and nests are preferentially made within woodpecker holes in the trunks of trees. Males become very aggressive at this time. Males attract females by calling loudly and bobbing up and down. The female lays and incubates two-three eggs. Both males and females bring food to the nests for chicks after hatching.

Outside the breeding season, Bali starlings could previously be found in flocks of up to 40 birds, often roosting in dense coconut trees. Adults feed on ants, termites and caterpillars but also on fruits and seeds.


            The Bali starling has been pushed to the brink of extinction by the illegal capture of individuals to satisfy the caged-bird trade. The rarer this beautiful species became, the higher the black market price, and the wild population has consequently been decimated. Habitat destruction and competition for nest sites with the black-winged starling, which is spreading throughout the island, are further threats to survival.


            The Bali starling has been protected under Indonesian law since 1970 and the entire recent wild population occurred within the Bali Barat National Park. Birdlife International established the Bali Starling Project in 1983, with the cooperation of the Indonesian government and US and British zoos, in an attempt to save this species from extinction. Armed guards protected the population within the park and captive-bred individuals were released to bolster the wild population, but numbers nevertheless continued to decline to just 36 to 40 individuals in 1994. 

The programme was dogged with problems, and in 1999 an armed gang stole almost all the 39 captive individuals in the park that were awaiting release into the wild; in the same year the wild population plummeted once again, this time to just 12 individuals. Despite on-going conservation efforts the Bali starling is now believed to be Extinct in the Wild, and the future of Bali's national bird looks increasingly bleak.




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