Bali Starling: Rare Birds Yearbook 2008
Range & population
The starling is endemic to the island of Bali, Indonesia, where it formerly ranged across the north-west third of the island. It has perhaps long been uncommon, but the population has declined drastically and contracted its range.
In the early 1900s, when it was discovered, the numbers have retrospectively been guessed at 300-900, although this is thought to be a gross underestimate. Illegal poaching reduced numbers to critically low levels in 1990. Conservation intervention coupled with the release of a few captive-bred birds raised this to between 35 and 55. However, despite excellent breeding success and continuing conservation efforts, including releases, the population continues to fluctuate. A second population on Nusa Penida island derived from 49 released individuals appears to have adapted to the island and is breeding. The total number to date of birds born in the wild on Nusa Penida is 16. A further 1,000 Bali Starlings are believed to survive in captivity. In the breeding season, which actually takes place in October and November, it inhabits fire-induced open shrub, tree and palm-savanna and adjacent closed-canopy monsoon-forest (tropical moist deciduous) below 175 m. In the non-breeding season, birds disperse into open forest edge and flooded savanna woodland. In the past they also occurred, and even nested, in coconut groves near villages. Previously thought to rely on cavities excavated and vacated by other birds, released individuals on Nusa Penida have nested in sugar palm, coconut, mangrove and fig trees.
Its decline to virtual extinction in the wild is primarily attributable to unsustainable, illegal trapping in response to worldwide demand for the cage-bird trade. This threat continues despite the fact that the whole population is now confined within a national park and has been the subject of a specific conservation programme. The park and programme have, however, suffered from repeated mismanagement and corruption. In 1999, while black-market prices soared (US$2,000 in mid-1990s), and armed gang stole almost all the 39 captive individuals in the park awaiting release into the wild. These serious problems now are compounded by habitat loss. With the population now at such a critically low level, other threats may include genetic erosion, inter-specific competition, natural predation and disease.
Conservation actions to date
The species has been protected under Indonesian law since 1970, while the remaining world population occurs entirely within Bali Barat National Park. Since 1983, the Bali Starling Project has helped to improve the guarding of the park, bolstered the wild population through release of captive-bred birds, and provided the foundation for the development of the Bali Starling Recovery Plan. It also appears to be benefiting from the efforts within the Nusa Penida Bird Sanctuary. Plans are being developed to legalise breeding and trading Bali Starling to open up the market and undermine illegal trade.
Population: 24 (declining)
- 1911 - German ornithologist Erwin Stresemann (1889-1972) collects the holotype and describers it the year after
- 1970 - the species becomes protected under Indonesian law.
- 1975 - 200 birds are estimated in September
- 1983 - the Bali Starling project is established
- 1990 - wild population estimated at c.15 birds.
- 1999 - and estimated 3,000 birds are in captivity, of which a third are registered in a studbook.
- 2001 - 6 birds are found
- 2005 - 24 individuals are recorded, following releases.
- 2006 - 37 birds are released in Nusa Penida.
- 2007 - 12 birds released in Nusa Penida and offered to the gods in religious ceremonies performed by Hindu priests. 10 birds bred in Japan are prepared for release in the West Bali National Park in May.
Conservation actions required
- Commence strict implementation of the Bali Starling Recovery Plan.
- Continue to monitor the success of the release and subsequent breeding of released birds in the wild on Nusa Penida, in particular investigating interactions with Black-winged Starling (Sturnus melanopterus).
- text (2007) by Erik Hirschfeld, info [at] rarebirdsyearbook.com
- contributions by Godi Dijkman, g.dijkman [at] mac.com