Binomial name: Sturnia malabarica, Johann Friedrich Gmelin, 1789
The chestnut-tailed starling or grey-headed myna (Sturnia malabarica) is a member of the starling family. It is a resident or partially migratory species found in wooded habitats in India and Southeast Asia. The species name is after the distribution of a former subspecies in the Malabar region. While the chestnut-tailed starling is a winter visitor to peninsular India, the closely related resident breeding population with a white head is now treated as a full species, the Malabar starling (Sturnia blythii).
Taxonomy and distribution
The lack of monophyly in the earlier starling genera has led to this species being placed variously under genus Sturnia, Sturnus and Temenuchus in the past (Zuccon et al., 2006) and studies have suggested the reuse of an old name Temenuchus for members of this clade. Later studies have suggested placement in the genus Sturnia.
There are two subspecies of the chestnut-tailed starling:
S. m. malabarica: northeastern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and northwestern Burma
S. m. nemoricola: southern China, Taiwan, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia
Both the nominate subspecies and nemoricola are known to perform some poorly understood movements (e.g., S. m. malabarica has been recorded from Pakistan and in central and southern India).
The taxon blythii is now usually (e.g. Rasmussen & Anderton, 2005) considered a valid species, the Malabar starling or white-headed myna (Sturnia blythii), instead of a subspecies of Sturnia malabarica. As S. m. malabarica only visits the range of blythii during the non-breeding period (winter), the two are not known to interbreed. However, a molecular study found the genetic divergence between S. blythii not significantly greater (between 0.2% and 0.8%) than between the sisters S. m. malabarica of northern India and S. m. nemoricola of Burma and Vietnam.
The adults have a total length of approximately 20 cm. They have grey upperparts and blackish remiges, but the colour of the remaining plumage depends on the subspecies. In the nominate subspecies and blythii, the underparts (incl. undertail) are rufous, but in nemoricola the underparts are whitish tinged rufous, especially on the flanks and crissum (the undertail coverts surrounding the cloaca). The nominate and nemoricola have a light grey head with whitish streaking (especially on crown and collar region). Both subspecies have white irises and a yellow bill with a pale blue base. The sexes are similar, but juveniles have whitish underparts and just chestnut tips to the tail feathers.
The chestnut-tailed starling's nest is typically found in open woodland and cultivation. The chestnut-tailed starling builds a nest in hole. The normal clutch is 3-5 eggs.
Like most starlings, the chestnut-tailed starling is fairly omnivorous, eating fruit, nectar and insects. They fly in tight flocks and often rapidly change directions with great synchrony.