Sturnus is a genus of starlings. As discussed below, the taxonomy of this group is complex, and other authorities differ considerably in which species they place in this genus, and in the species boundaries within Sturnus.
This genus has representatives across most of Eurasia and one species, the European Starling, has been introduced to South Africa, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
The Sturnus starlings are terrestrial species; they walk rather than hop, and have modifications to the skull and its muscles for open-bill probing. The latter adaptation has facilitated the spread of this genus from humid tropical southern Asia to cooler regions of Europe and Asia.
The more northerly breeding species are completely or partially migratory, wintering in warmer regions.
Sturnus starlings nest in holes in trees or buildings. They are omnivorous and mostly feed on the ground; they specialise in taking invertebrates from just below the surface. This is facilitated by the head adaptations mentioned above, which enable the birds to probe with the bill open, closing it to secure prey items.
The plumages within this group are variable, but all the species have the starling's familiar triangular wing shape.
The European (the type species
) and Spotless Starlings
are particularly closely related, and interbreed to some extent where their ranges overlap in southwestern France
and northeastern Spain
. The non-migratory Spotless Starling may be descended from a population of ancestral S. vulgaris
that survived in an Iberian
refugium during an ice age
The other species have been placed in this, closely related, or their own genera in the past. As delimited here, the genus Sturnus is an evolutionary grade and not a monophyletic group (Zuccon et al. 2006). It appears as if Acridotheres, Leucopsar, and possibly others would have to be included here to make the present genus a truly evolutionary group (Jønsson & Fjeldså 2006). However, this would create an even more diverse and less informative assemblage, so it is probably more advisable to split the genus into several, reinstating taxa such as Pastor and Temenuchus.
This has to wait for a more thorough study of all species' relationships; in the meantime, the old taxonomic sequence is preserved and suspected affiliations of the currently included species are remarked upon:
- White-faced Starling, Sturnus albofrontatus (sometimes named S. senex) - sometimes placed in Sturnia, but incertae sedis
- Brahminy Starling, Sturnus pagodarum - sometimes separated in Temenuchus which may be correct; probably close to Sturnia and Leucopsar
- Vinous-breasted Starling, Sturnus burmannicus - sometimes separated in Gracupica or placed in Acridotheres which may be correct
- Black-collared Starling, Sturnus nigricollis - sometimes separated in Gracupica which may be correct; probably close to Creatophora
- Asian Pied Starling, Sturnus contra - sometimes placed in Acridotheres
- Black-winged Starling, Sturnus melanopterus - sometimes placed in Acridotheres which appears to be correct
- Rosy Starling, Sturnus roseus - sometimes placed in Pastor which appears to be correct
- Red-billed Starling, Sturnus sericeus - close to White-cheeked Starling and thus probably belongs into Acridotheres or distinct genus
- White-cheeked Starling, Sturnus cineraceus - appears to be related to Acridotheres, but maybe a distinct genus located between Acridotheres and Sturnia
- European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris - retained in this genus
- Spotless Starling, Sturnus unicolor - retained in this genus
- Chestnut-tailed Starling, Sturnus malabaricus - sometimes placed in Sturnia
- Malabar White-headed Starling, Sturnus (malabaricus) blythii - sometimes placed in Sturnia
- White-headed Starling, Sturnus erythropygius - sometimes placed in Sturnia
- Chestnut-cheeked Starling, Sturnus philippensis - sometimes placed in Sturnia
- White-shouldered Starling, Sturnus sinensis - sometimes placed in Sturnia
- Purple-backed Starling, Sturnus sturninus - sometimes placed in Sturnia
- (1999): Starlings and Mynas. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-7136-3961-X
- (1999): Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.. ISBN 0-691-04910-6
- (2006): A phylogenetic supertree of oscine passerine birds (Aves: Passeri). Zool. Scripta 35(2): 149–186. (HTML abstract)
- (1999): Collins bird guide. Harper & Collins, London. ISBN 0-00-219728-6
- (2006): Nuclear and mitochondrial sequence data reveal the major lineages of starlings, mynas and related taxa. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 41(2): 333-344. (HTML abstract)