Family Starlings (Sturnidae)

Least Concern

Chestnut-tailed Starling (Sturnia malabarica)


French: Étourneau à tête grise German: Graukopfstar Spanish: Estornino malabar

Turdus malabaricus

J. F. Gmelin

, 1789,

Malabar Coast, India


Distinctive race blythii has commonly been treated as a separate species since 2005#R on basis of differences in plumage, proportions and voice, but there is much mensural overlap, vocal distinctiveness has not yet been shown, and plumage characters are too variable to provide diagnosis except for the (slightly more extensive) white vs grey hood, most obvious in male (score 3); moreover, genetic divergence “so small... that all taxa are better retained in a single species”#R. Proposed race assamica (described from Naga Hills, in NE India) synonymized with nemoricola. Type locality of species falls outside breeding range of nominate race and instead within range of blythii, but in non-breeding season both forms can occur in this region; name presumably based on specimen of visiting individual. Three subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. m. malabarica (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – Chestnut-tailed Starling – N India (foothills in Himachal Pradesh) E to NE Arunachal Pradesh (Mishmi Hills) and N Assam, S to Odisha; occurs in remainder of peninsula, but probably only in winter#R.
  • S. m. nemoricola Jerdon, 1862 – NE India (S Assam) E to Myanmar, S China, W & NW Thailand and Indochina; non-breeding also in the rest of Thailand (except S) and Cambodia.
  • S. m. blythii (Jerdon, 1845) – Malabar Starling – SW India (from S Maharashtra S to Kerala).
  • Introduced (race uncertain) in Taiwan#R.

    Descriptive notes

    18·5–20·5 cm; 32–44 g. Rather small starling with elongate and hackled feathers on crown, nape and side of face, and throat. Nominate race has... read more


    Song a series of short hard notes and low squeaky churrs, also rapid subdued outbursts of same... read more


    Open woodland and areas with scattered trees; often in young forestry plantations, also close to... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet includes insects, fruit, seeds and nectar; possibly also pollen and flower buds. Insects taken include caterpillars (Lepidoptera),... read more


    Season Apr–Jul in N India and Feb–May in S; Apr–Jun in SE Asia. Monogamous. Nest of grass, rootlets and twigs, placed by... read more


    Uncertain. Thought to be resident in most areas, but erratic movements reported which may represent... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Fairly common through greater part of range in India and SE Asia; blythii locally common in SW India. Some evidence of possible range... read more

    Recommended citation

    Craig, A. & Feare, C. (2020). Chestnut-tailed Starling (Sturnia malabarica). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 25 February 2020).