The Violet Backed Starling: Nature’s Jewel in the Wild

In the vast tapestry of the natural world, few sights are as breathtaking as the iridescent shimmer of the violet backed starling. This avian gem, with its distinctive violet back contrasting sharply against its pristine white underbelly, has captivated birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. Its striking appearance not only makes it a subject of admiration but also underscores the incredible diversity and beauty of bird species around the globe. The violet backed starling represents a fascinating study in the adaptability and vibrancy of the avian world, holding a mirror to the complex ecosystems that nurture such extraordinary biodiversity.

This article will delve into the various aspects of the violet backed starling, from its taxonomy and distinct physical description to its distribution and natural habitat. It will also explore the bird’s behavior, how it interacts within its environment, and the conservation status that highlights the challenges it faces in the wild. Additionally, interesting facts about this species will be shared to provide a well-rounded understanding of its role in nature. By offering a glimpse into the life of the violet backed starling, this piece aims to foster greater appreciation and awareness of not only this species but also the broader ecological networks that sustain life on Earth.

Violet Backed Starling


Early Classification

The violet-backed starling was first described by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon in 1775, in his work Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux. The bird was illustrated in a hand-coloured plate by François-Nicolas Martinet, which was part of the Planches Enluminées D’Histoire Naturelle, supervised by Edme-Louis Daubenton. Initially, Buffon did not assign a scientific name to the species. It was not until 1783 that Pieter Boddaert provided the binomial name Turdus leucogaster in his catalogue of the Planches Enluminées. The type locality of this species was identified as Benin in West Africa.

Current Classification

Over time, the classification of the violet-backed starling evolved. René Lesson introduced the genus Cinnyricinclus in 1840, and the violet-backed starling was designated as the type species of this genus by George Robert Gray in 1855. The genus name Cinnyricinclus is a combination of Cinnyris (a genus of sunbirds introduced by Georges Cuvier in 1816) and the Neo-Latin cinclus, meaning “thrush”. This reflects the bird’s characteristics and lineage within the broader avian taxonomy.


The violet-backed starling is recognized to have three subspecies, which vary slightly in geographical range and appearance:

  1. Cinnyricinclus leucogaster leucogaster (Boddaert, 1783) – This subspecies is found from Senegal and Gambia to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.
  2. Cinnyricinclus leucogaster arabicus (Grant, CHB & Mackworth-Praed, 1942) – This group inhabits areas from east Sudan to northwest Somalia and extends to the Arabian Peninsula.
  3. Cinnyricinclus leucogaster verreauxi (Finsch & Hartlaub, 1870) – Found from south DR Congo to west Tanzania and south to Botswana, northeast South Africa, and Mozambique.

These subspecies demonstrate the adaptability and variation within the species, influenced by their distinct habitats and geographical distributions.


Physical Characteristics of Males

The violet-backed starling exhibits striking sexual dimorphism, particularly notable in the adult males. These males are characterized by an iridescent violet hue that covers the head, back, and wings. This vibrant coloration can appear plum-violet to purple-blue, shifting beautifully depending on the lighting conditions. In stark contrast, their underparts are pure white, extending from the belly to the vent, creating a vivid distinction from the darker, shimmering upper body.

Physical Characteristics of Females

Females of the violet-backed starling present a more subdued color palette, resembling the appearance of a thrush. Their upper parts are brown with bold streaks, while the underparts are white, heavily streaked with brown. This coloration provides effective camouflage in their natural habitat, contrasting sharply with the more vivid males. Females share the same yellow irises, black bills, and legs with their male counterparts, maintaining uniformity in these aspects across the sexes.

Juvenile Description

Juveniles of the violet-backed starling resemble the females, sporting a streaky brown and buff coloration. This similarity aids in their camouflage and protection from predators in their early stages of life. As they mature, males will develop the distinctive iridescent violet plumage, signaling their readiness for breeding and the roles they will play within their species’ social structure.

Distribution and Habitat

Geographical Range

The violet-backed starling is predominantly found across Sub-Saharan Africa. This bird is widespread in regions that do not include the dense rainforests of the Congo Basin or the arid zones of southwestern Africa. Its presence is noted in a variety of countries within this expansive area, demonstrating its adaptability to different environmental conditions.

Preferred Habitats

The preferred habitats of the violet-backed starling are quite diverse, allowing it to thrive in a range of ecological settings. It is commonly found in open woodlands, which provide a mix of trees and open space that are ideal for foraging and nesting. Additionally, this species is also seen in gallery forests—forests located next to streams or rivers—and forest verges, which are the transitional areas between forests and other types of landscapes.

Moreover, the bird is known to inhabit clearings within forests, areas where the tree cover has been partially removed, which likely benefits its foraging activities. Notably, in the Chyulu Hills of Kenya, the violet-backed starling can be found at altitudes as high as 2,100 meters (approximately 6,900 feet), indicating its capability to adapt to varying altitudinal ranges. This adaptability to different altitudes and environments underscores the species’ resilience and flexibility in habitat utilization.



Diet and Feeding Habits

The violet-backed starling is an omnivorous bird, adept at exploiting a wide range of food sources. Its diet primarily consists of fruits, such as mulberries and figs, and a variety of insects including butterflies, bees, wasps, and locusts. This species is particularly noted for its ability to catch insects on the wing or pluck them from tree branches. During termite swarms, these starlings gather in large numbers, skillfully catching and consuming the insects. They also play a crucial role in seed dispersal, particularly for mistletoes, as they feed on the fruits and excrete the seeds in different locations.

Nesting and Breeding Habits

Violet-backed starlings exhibit interesting breeding behaviors, often nesting in cavities found in tree holes or even in old hollow fence posts. These nests are lined with various materials including dung, leaves, and other plant matter. The species is known to reuse these nests across successive breeding seasons. Typically, the female incubates a clutch of two to four pale blue, reddish-brown spotted eggs for about 12 to 14 days. Post-hatching, both parents participate actively in feeding the chicks, which fledge approximately 21 days later. This cooperative parenting helps ensure the survival and growth of their offspring.

Migration Patterns

The migration patterns of the violet-backed starling vary among populations. While some are resident, remaining in the same area year-round, most are either migratory or nomadic. These birds are intra-African migrants, moving across different regions of sub-Saharan Africa depending on the season. During the winter months, they typically migrate northwards, returning south to breed in the spring. Their migration is eagerly anticipated by wildlife enthusiasts, as their arrival adds a vibrant splash of color to the local fauna.

Conservation Status

The violet-backed starling, while not currently listed as globally threatened, faces several challenges that could impact its future conservation status. This bird’s situation exemplifies the dynamic nature of wildlife conservation, where the status can shift due to various influencing factors.

Threat Level

The violet-backed starling is classified as ‘Least Concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to its extensive range and currently stable population numbers. However, it is important to note that the species’ population trend appears to be decreasing. Despite the broad geographical distribution, specific local populations may suffer from threats that could lead to more serious conservation concerns in the future. Factors contributing to these threats include habitat loss due to deforestation, habitat degradation, and the illegal pet trade. These activities can have localized impacts, leading to declines in certain areas even if the overall species remains not globally threatened.

Conservation Efforts

To address the challenges faced by the violet-backed starling, conservation efforts are essential, particularly in regions where population declines are noted. Conservation strategies include habitat preservation, legal protection measures, and community engagement to prevent illegal trapping. Monitoring the population trends and habitat conditions regularly is crucial for early detection of potential threats and effective management of conservation efforts. Additionally, many zoos have evolved into conservation centers, actively participating in research and breeding programs to support the sustainability of species like the violet-backed starling. These institutions play a pivotal role in educating the public about the importance of biodiversity and conservation.

It is recommended to consult up-to-date resources such as the IUCN Red List and local conservation organizations for the most current information on the conservation status of the violet-backed starling. These sources provide detailed, reliable data and can guide effective conservation planning and actions.

Interesting Facts

The violet-backed starling, also known as the Plum-coloured Starling or Amethyst Starling, possesses a range of fascinating characteristics and behaviors that distinguish it from other bird species. This section explores some of the unique behaviors and cultural significance of this vibrant bird.

Unique Behaviors

  1. Sexual Dimorphism and Mating: The violet-backed starling exhibits a strong sexual dimorphism. The male is known for its brilliant iridescent plum-violet feathers along its back, wings, face, and throat, contrasted with bright white on the rest of the body. In contrast, females and juveniles display a more subdued streaky brown and buff coloration, which can easily be mistaken for a thrush. This species is monogamous, remaining with one partner unless the mate dies, after which it seeks a new partner.
  2. Nesting Habits: These starlings prefer nesting in high cavities, such as tree holes, river banks, or even old hollow fence posts, lining their nests with dung, leaves, and other plant materials. Remarkably, they often reuse these nests in successive breeding seasons. Their eggs are oval and spotted blue, incubated predominantly by the female over approximately two weeks.
  3. Dietary Adaptability: Violet-backed starlings are omnivorous, feeding on a mix of fruits like mulberries and figs, and insects such as butterflies, bees, wasps, and locusts. They are skilled at catching prey both on the wing and from tree branches. During termite swarms, these birds can be seen in large numbers, feasting on the insects.
  4. Migration and Movement: Known as intra-African migrants, these starlings have a significant presence across sub-Saharan Africa. They are particularly noted as common summer visitors in regions like the woodlands, grasslands, and riverine areas of Sabi Sabi, where their arrival is celebrated by both rangers and guests.

Cultural Significance

  1. Imitation of Bird Calls: The violet-backed starling has the ability to imitate the calls of other bird types, showcasing its vocal adaptability and intelligence. This trait not only aids in its survival by confusing predators but also enriches the acoustic environment of its habitat.
  2. Aerial Acrobatics: This species is recognized for its fast and agile flying capabilities, often performing impressive aerial acrobatics. This agility helps them evade predators and catch prey, making them a thrilling sight for birdwatchers.
  3. Contribution to Ecosystem: As significant frugivores, violet-backed starlings play a crucial role in seed dispersion, aiding in the regeneration of plant species within their habitats. Their feeding habits help maintain the ecological balance and promote biodiversity.
  4. Feather Structure and Coloration: The striking violet hue of the male starling’s feathers is not due to pigmentation but is instead caused by the structural arrangement of the feathers. This aspect of their physiology is of particular interest to scientists studying avian behavior, migratory patterns, and the evolution of feather colors.

Through these unique behaviors and their cultural significance, the violet-backed starling not only contributes to biodiversity but also captures the fascination of those who observe it, enhancing our understanding of the natural world.


Throughout this exploration of the violet-backed starling, a vivid tapestry of avian diversity and adaptability has been revealed. From the detailed examination of its taxonomy, physical characteristics, and habitat, to the insightful observations on its diet, breeding habits, and migration patterns, the article has highlighted the complex interplay between this species and its environment. The bird’s striking iridescence, not just a marvel of nature’s artistry but also a subject of scientific study, underscores the intricate ecological roles and survival strategies within the bird’s natural world. The discussions on conservation efforts and the challenges facing the violet-backed starling serve as a reminder of our responsibility to protect these natural jewels and the habitats that support them.

The narrative woven around the violet-backed starling not only amplifies our appreciation of its beauty and ecological significance but also prompts a broader contemplation on biodiversity and conservation. As we close this discussion, it becomes evident that the violet-backed starling is more than just an avian gem; it is a beacon urging us towards greater environmental stewardship. Let us take inspiration from the resilience and adaptability of the violet-backed starling and push for concerted conservation actions. In doing so, we ensure that the skies remain adorned with their vibrant hues, and the ecosystems they inhabit continue to thrive, safeguarding the delicate balance of our planet’s biodiversity.


1. How common are violet-backed starlings?
Violet-backed starlings are quite common and are known to migrate seasonally, often seen in large flocks.

2. Can you share an interesting detail about the violet-backed starling?
An interesting fact about the violet-backed starling, also known as the Plum-coloured Starling or Amethyst Starling, is that it is the smallest starling species in Southern Africa. It belongs to the Sturnidae family and measures only about 18cm in length.

3. Where do violet-backed starlings live?
Violet-backed starlings are predominantly found in Sub-Saharan Africa. They thrive in open woodlands, gallery forests, and the edges of forests, although they are not present in the dense rainforests of the Congo Basin or the arid regions of southwestern Africa.

4. What is the population structure of violet-backed starlings?
The violet-backed starling, also referred to as the Amethyst Starling or the Plum-colored Starling, comprises three recognized subspecies.