Red-winged starling

Red-winged starling
Onychognathus morio
Photo by Doug Butcher (Birdlife Trogon’s Bird Club)

Common name:
red-winged starling (en); estorninho-d’asa vermelha (pt); rufipenne morio (fr); estornino de alas rojas africano (es); rotschwingenstar (de)

Order Passeriformes
Family Sturnidae

This African species is patchily distributed from Ethiopia through Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi and into northern Mozambique and Zimbabwe, eastern Botswana and South Africa.

These birds are 27-30 cm long and weigh 125-140 g.

Red-winged starlings are mostly found in rocky outcrops and gorges in highland grasslands, occasionally visiting forests and, in recent times, becoming increasingly common in urban areas. They are present from sea level up to an altitude of 4.000 m.

They mostly eat fruits and arthropods, including termites, locusts, ticks, spiders, millipedes and scorpions. However, these birds are extremely adaptable, being known to pick up human food scraps at picnic sites, eating carrion and even taking molluscs and fresh water crabs from intertidal zones. They may occasionally also eat other birds.

Red-winged starlings form monogamous pairs which probably mate for life. They breed in September-March, with both sexes building the nest, a large flat platform built of sticks, grass and rootlets secured together with mud, lined with grass and hairs. The nest is typically placed on a rock or building ledge, on a beam or at the base of a palm frond. There the female lays 2-4 blue eggs with red-brown spots, which she mostly incubates alone for 13-14 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and fledge 22-28 days after hatching. Each pair usually produces 2 broods per season, but while the first brood is chased away just 2 weeks after fledging, the second brood often remains with the parents for 5-6 weeks after fledging.

IUCN status – LC (Least concern)
This species has a very large breeding range and is described as common to abundant in most areas. The population is suspected to be increasing as it has successfully adapted to urban areas.

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