Tristram's starling (Onychognathus tristramii), also known as Dead Sea starling or Tristram's grackle, is a species of starling native to the Middle East. It is the only member of the genus Onychognathus found mainly outside of Africa.[2] The species is named after Reverend Henry Baker Tristram, who collected natural history specimens.[3]

Tristram's starling
at Masada, Israel
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Sturnidae
Genus: Onychognathus
O. tristramii
Binomial name
Onychognathus tristramii
(Sclater, PL, 1858)
Tristram's starling calls

Distribution and habitat Edit

This bird is found in deserts in Israel, Jordan, northeastern Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), western Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman, nesting mainly on rocky cliff faces. The species is becoming increasingly commensal with humans, feeding in towns and villages; this has enabled a recent northward spread in its distribution.[4]

Description Edit

Tristram's starling is 25 cm long (including a 9 cm tail), with a wingspan of 44–45 cm, and a weight of 100–140 g. The males have glossy iridescent black plumage with orange patches on the outer wing, which are particularly noticeable in flight. The bill and legs are black. Females and young birds are similar but duller and with a greyish head, lacking the plumage gloss.[4][5]

Physiology Edit

Although starlings are a tropical family by origin, Tristram's starling is well adapted to living in a desert environment: it loses relatively little water to evaporation and produces less heat than expected for its base metabolic rate. Its dark plumage may help it survive in the desert winter, when temperatures are low but the sun's radiation is strong.[6]

Ecology and Behavior Edit

Diet Edit

Tristram's starlings are omnivorous, feeding on fruit and invertebrates (mainly insects such as beetles, flies, butterflies, and bees; but also small snails[7]). They have also been observed grooming Nubian ibex and domestic livestock for parasites.[2] Although they do not migrate for the most part,[8] they fly relatively long distances compared to other resident birds, which likely makes them important seed dispersers for fleshy-fruited desert plants.[9] In addition, they often forage for scraps in human settlements.[7]

Breeding Edit

Tristram's starlings breed during the spring and early summer. They nest in existing cavities in rocky cliffs and also in urban buildings.[8] Pairs are monogamous. The male courts the female by bringing her insects and twigs. They lay 2-4 eggs, which are blue with brown spots.[7] Females incubate alone,[10] but both parents feed the chicks. The young leave the nest about a month after hatching.[7] Some pairs raise a second brood in later in the season, using the same nest.[2]

Social Behaviour Edit

Tristram's starling is a gregarious and noisy bird, with a call that resembles a wolf whistle. Outside the breeding season the starlings live in groups of between ten and a few hundred individuals.[8] However, pairs remain together throughout the year, even when they join a larger group.[2]

Gallery Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Onychognathus tristramii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22710604A132089059. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22710604A132089059.en. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Paz, U. (1987). The birds of Israel. Helm.
  3. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael (2003). Whose Bird? Men and Women Commemorated in the Common Names of Birds. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 342–343.
  4. ^ a b Snow, D. W. & Perrins, C. M. (1998). The Birds of the Western Palearctic Concise Edition. OUP ISBN 0-19-854099-X.
  5. ^ Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D., & Grant, P. J. (1999). Collins Bird Guide. Harper Collins, London. ISBN 0-00-219728-6.
  6. ^ Dmi'el, R., & Tel-Tzur, D. (1985). Heat balance of two starling species (Sturnus vulgaris andOnychognathus tristrami) from temperate and desert habitats. Journal of Comparative Physiology B, 155(3), 395-402.
  7. ^ a b c d Craig, A. J. F. and C. J. Feare (2020). Tristram's Starling (Onychognathus tristramii), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
  8. ^ a b c Shirihai, H., Dovrat, E., Christie, D. A., & Harris, A. (1996). The birds of Israel (Vol. 876). London: Academic Press.
  9. ^ Spiegel, O. and Nathan, R. (2007), Incorporating dispersal distance into the disperser effectiveness framework: frugivorous birds provide complementary dispersal to plants in a patchy environment. Ecology Letters, 10: 718-728.
  10. ^ Hofshi, H., Gersani, M., & Katzir, G. (1987). URBAN NESTING OF TRISTRAM'S GRACKLES ONYCHOGNATHUS TRLSTRAMLL IN ISRAEL. Ostrich, 58(4), 156-159.