Justification of Red List Category
This stunning starling qualifies as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small range and a tiny population which is still suffering from illegal poaching for the cagebird trade. Releases of captive-bred birds have boosted the population, but it is uncertain how many of these have yet bred successfully in the wild. In due course, if the population continues to grow and trapping pressures can be brought under control, the species may warrant downlisting.
At the release site in West Bali National Park, c.50 individuals were estimated in 2008 (G. Dijkman in litt. 2008). At the release site on Nusa Penida Island, the population was recorded as 65 adults and 62 juveniles in 2009 (C. Kenwrick in litt. 2009). In February and March 2015, staff of Begawan Foundation and Wildlife Reserves Singapore undertook an audit on Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan Islands, which only found 12 adults and a possible 2 birds in nests (Halaouate 2015). At least at one other release site, the species appears to be doing well (Marsden 2017). However, as IUCN stipulates that re-introduced individuals must have produced viable offspring before they are counted as mature individuals, the population size is precautionarily assumed to be fewer than 50 mature individuals, although this may warrant revising upwards if there is continued evidence of breeding success.
The wild population has been maintained only by release of captive birds, so is essentially gradually declining. The trend of the introduced colonies is difficult to determine; while the two major populations on Nusa Penida Island and in West Bali National Park initially increased to over 50 individuals each in 2008-2009 (G. Dijkman in litt. 2008, C. Kenwrick in litt. 2009), the colonies on Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan Islands decreased to less than 20 birds in 2015, possibly due to illegal trapping (M. Halaouate in litt. 2013, Halaouate 2015).
This species 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. Numbers in the early 1900s, when the species was discovered, have been retrospectively guessed at 300-900 individuals, although this is thought to be a gross underestimate. Since then, it has declined drastically in population and range. Illegal poaching reduced numbers to a critically low level in 1990, when the wild population was estimated at c. 15 birds. 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, the population continues to fluctuate, falling to six birds in 2001 (P. Benstead verbally 2003). Continuing releases have raised numbers in West Bali National Park, such that surveys in March 2005 found 24 individuals (P. Wood in litt. 2005). In 2008, the population there was believed to be around 50 birds (G. Dijkman in litt. 2007, 2008). However, it is uncertain how many of these released birds have bred successfully in the wild and can be regarded as mature individuals following IUCN guidelines. A population derived from captive individuals has been introduced on Nusa Penida Island (which is apparently not part of the native range). This population appears to have adapted to the island and is breeding, with a total of 65 adults and 62 young present in 2009 (G. Dijkman in litt. 2007, 2008). There have been releases elsewhere (Collar et al. 2012), and the species appears to be doing well at at least one of these sites (Marsden 2017). Around 1,000 individuals are believed to survive in captivity. An apparent sighting of a pair of birds in East Java has not been confirmed; it is likely that these were escaped or released captive birds (A. Blakemore in litt. 2011).
In the breeding season (usually October and November), the species 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 Island have nested in sugar palm, coconut and fig trees (G. Dijkman in litt. 2007, 2008).
The species's 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 for the species soared (US$2,000 in mid-1990s), an armed gang stole almost all the 39 captive individuals awaiting release into the wild from the park. These serious problems are compounded by habitat loss. With the population now at such a critically low level, other threats may include genetic erosion, interspecific competition, natural predation and disease. Trapping is recently suspected to have taken place among the released population at Nusa Penida Island (M. Halaouate in litt. 2013). In February and March 2015, staff of Begawan Foundation and Wildlife Reserves Singapore undertook an audit on both Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan, which only found 12 adults and a possible 2 birds in nests (Halaouate 2015).
Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. This species has been the focus of much conservation effort (see Jepson 2016). The species has been protected under Indonesian law since 1970 and occurs 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. A population derived from captive individuals was introduced to Nusa Penida Island (which is apparently not part of its native range) by Begawan Foundation. Reintroduction work has continued through the efforts of the Friends of the National Park Foundation (I. G. N. Bayu Wirayudha in litt. 2012). By the end of 2009, 65 birds had been released at Nusa Penida Island and at least 62 chicks were reported to have fledged in the wild up to 2011 (Collar et al. 2012). In 2006, a local regulation was passed to make protection of birds obligatory by all village residents on Nusa Penida, in return for support including local education and sustainable livelihoods projects (Friends of the National Parks Foundation undated). A government scheme allows locals to get captive birds on 'breeding loan' and give a small proportion of the offspring to Bali Barat National Park and sell the rest commercially (Collar et al. 2012). As many as 126 birds have been released in the park, but these have been 'hard releases' with no subsequent monitoring of survival (Collar et al. 2012). In addition, the Wildlife Conservation Society continues to operate wildlife crime market and trade surveillance, as well as enforcement at key trading hubs in Indonesia (N. Brickle in litt. 2007). Soft releases with provision of food, water and nest boxes have recently taken place at four resorts along the north coast (Collar et al. 2012). Three more releases were scheduled for 2014 (Begawan Foundation 2014).
Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor population trends closely, in particular to determine whether released birds are breeding successfully. Improve genetic diversity of released populations by introducing unrelated individuals. Commence strict implementation of the Bali Starling Recovery Plan. Continue to monitor the success of the reintroduced populations at all release sites, in particular investigating interactions with native flora and fauna, as well as with local agricultural activity. Encourage community work to improve habitat conditions (I. G. N. Bayu Wirayudha in litt. 2012).
25 cm. Medium-large, stocky starling. Almost wholly white with long, drooping crest, black wing-tips and tail tip. Blue bare skin around eye and legs, yellow bill. Similar spp. Black-winged Starling Sturnus melanopterus has shorter crest, much larger area of black on wings and tail and yellow eye-ring and legs. Voice Variety of sharp chattering calls and an emphatic twat.
Text account compilers
Westrip, J., Wright, L, Davidson, P., Benstead, P., Derhé, M., Bird, J., Khwaja, N., Pilgrim, J., Symes, A., Tobias, J.
Halaouate, M., Dijkman, G., Wood, P., Brickle, N., Kenwrick, C., Benstead, P., Blakemore, A.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Leucopsar rothschildi. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 02/12/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 02/12/2020.