Species Profiles: Emerald Starling (Lamprotornis iris)


Fans of David Attenborough's Public Television nature programs should  be pleased to know that during the making of the first one in 1954, the BBC/ Zoological Society of London "ZooQuest" to the West African Republic of Sierra Leone, the first Emerald Starlings in aviculture were captured. Twenty-six arrived at the London Zoo (Yealland, 1955). A year later, Carles Cordier, the great animal collector, sent the first specimen to America. Marvin Jones informed me that this bird arrived at the Philadelphia Zoo April 6, 1955, and died there April 9, 1973. It would happen that Philadelphia Zoo would also be the first collection in the U.S. to breed this species, in 1981. The first captive breeding took place in 1980 at Chestnut Lodge, the British aviaries of Raymond Sawyer and Ruth Ezra (Coles, 1987). Until the 1980s, the Emerald Starling was an extremely rare bird in captivity. In contrast to many other African starlings, this species has a geographically constricted range; wooded savanna in the northern West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Unknown to science until1879 (Yealland, 1955), few specimens were collected for museums. I discovered, as of 1980, that all examples of this species in the enormously extensive collections of the American Museum of Natural History had been collected as a single series, for Walter Rothschild, whose collection of bird. skins was the finest in private hands before its sale to the American museum. Commencing in 1979, increasing numbers were exported from Sierra Leone, and the export of this species from there continues as of mid-1993. It
is likely to cease after October 22, 1993, when the Wild Bird Conservation Act will prohibit the import of the more commercially important African birds. By the early 1980s, quite a number of U.S. zoos had acquired Emerald  Starlings, and they proved rather easy to breed. In 1989, the International Zoo Yearbook lists a total of 17 hatched by six American zoos, of which only three failed to survive. Breeding results have not been consistent, however; of the 14 U.S. zoos that ISIS lists holding the species on June 30, 1993, only two hatched any from June 30, 1992 to June 30, 1993; Lincoln Park, with three, and Philadelphia, with 13 hatched. With a June 30, 1992 ISIS population of 56, the Emerald Starling was the 15th most populous Passerine species in U.S. zoos according to Robert Webster's compiation published on page 54 of the June/July 1993 number of this magazine. It is encouraging to note that a year later the U.S . zoo population had risen to 81 specimens. In light of the current U.S. zoo population, as well as the number that are in private hands in this country, and considering that West Africa, with, at...