sturnus vulgaris

Sturnus

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.

Systematics

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 retreat.

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:

References

  • (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)

Footnotes

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