Starlings

Members of this family, with their often colourful plumage, are popular aviary occupants. They rank amongst the easiest softbills both to keep and breed, once the initial difficulty of recognising pairs has been overcome. The group includes the greater hill mynah (Gracula religiosa), which is widely-kept as a pet bird because of its powers of mimicry. Many starlings display an attractive iridescent sheen on their plumage, which can only be fully appreciated in sunlight. African species tend to be naturally more colourful than their Asiatic relatives.  

Housing

Adaptable by nature, starlings will settle well in either a fairly open or alternatively, a well-planted flight. They can be destructive on occasions however, towards growing vegetation in these surroundings. Many species are hardy enough to live outdoors in a typical garden aviary with a snug shelter once acclimatised, although some species such as the beautiful royal starling (Cosmopsarus regius) are less hardy than others, and are likely to require heated winter-time accommodation.

This should be in the form of a indoor flight rather than a cage, in view of the active nature of these birds. The perches must be washed regularly in these surroundings, since mynahs have messy feeding habits, and will wipe their bills on the perch, making them sticky. An open container of water should also be provided for bathing purposes.

Feeding preferences

Offer a mixture of diced fruit, berries and invertebrates such as mealworms or waxmoth larvae, as well as loose softbill food or soaked pellets. Mynah food is suitable not just for these particular starlings but also for other members of the group as well. Ensure, however, that you are using a low iron food, to safeguard these birds from the risk of iron storage disease.   

Breeding

Starlings are hole-nesters, and so pairs need to be given nestboxes for this purpose. These should be relatively square in shape, rather than being of the deeper, grandfather-clock type design favoured by some Australian parakeets. Nesting material in the form of twigs and moss will be utilised by these birds to create an untidy lining. Pairs may rear two broods in succession, so a second box may be needed. It will be advisable to remove the first round young once they are independent. 

Sociability

Pairs should be housed on their own for breeding purposes, but can be housed as part of a mixed collection with birds of a similar size, or in flocks at other times.   

Health watch

Young birds, especially if hatched in aviaries with grass floors, are vulnerable to gapeworms (Syngamus trachea). These parasites are transmitted from snails and other invertebrates caught by the adult birds and used as rearing food. The worms then develop and migrate through the blood stream, anchoring at the entrance to the windpipe (trachea). A large number will cause difficulty in breathing, especially after any period of exertion, and can prove fatal. Birds gape with their bills open, trying to breathe more easily. Treatment is possible, but minimise the risk by avoiding wild-caught livefoods which can spread this infection.

  • Good to start with:  Purple glossy starling (Lamprotornis purpureus), which has very striking yellow irises, although pairs cannot be distinguished visually. Find more information here.
  • Clutch size: 2-3 eggs.
  • Incubation and fledging periods: 14 and 21 days.

Enthusiast’s guide

Starlings and Mynas by Chris Feare and Adrian Craig. Published by Christopher Helm.