Violet-Backed Starling, the Kakuzi Affair

By Simon Odhiambo (Kenyanbirder)

Of the over 200 bird species I have spotted within the Kakuzi ecosystem in Makuyu north of Thika, the Violet-backed Starling strikes me as an interestingly beautiful bird with a unique plumage that makes its identification a walk in the park. I see them from time to time perching on the fencing posts, sometimes not bothered by my presence, most of the time hardly giving me a chance to recall their name as I am left mumbling to myself ‘… that was a Violet-backed Staling. The violet back means it is male and the other duller one that took off after him is female. I know they will be back again…’

Early this month, I noticed a male Violet-backed Starling busy collecting ‘dudus’ from the ground, grass and tree-barks. I say ‘collecting’ because it made several flights, back and forth, and each time leaving with a beak full of wriggling caterpillars and coming back with an empty beak, so to speak, for more. Of course there were occasional squabbles between it, an Abyssinian (Olive) Thrush, a Fork-tailed Drongo and the noisy White-browed Sparrow Weavers on whose territory these birds were trespassing.

On 18th February 2024 during the Sunday Monthly Bird Watch at Kakuzi, I learnt that the Violet-backed Starling is generally considered a migratory bird. ‘I see them here all the time’ was my response. ‘There are very few recordsof them breeding in Kenya’ said Fleur, as I narrated my observation.  These return-trips can then be read as the usual feeding behaviour by other birds whenever they have hatchlings in their nests. If this is true then this could be an interesting record at Kakuzi!

Meanwhile, a Ruppell’s Robin Chat continued singing and mimicking other birds calls, undisturbed … until the female Violet-backed Starling joined the male for a round of caterpillar collection.  There was spiteful chase that didn’t last long. The singing continued.

I consider the Kakuzi ecosystem an ecotone inviting various bird species. hence making it an interesting area to go birding.  A Black-headed Orioles call echoes from my garden, I lose my line of thought. Did I mention that all along I had my camera with me and managed to get some shots of the Violet-backed Starling?

I remain hopeful that the fledgling will soon accompany the parents for water or to be shown the feeding grounds. Fingers crossed!