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Aplonis corvina - Kosrae Starling (RMNH 90380)
RMNH 90380
Aplonis corvina - Kosrae Starling (RMNH 90381)
RMNH 90381

Sturnidae (Starlings)

Kosrae Starling Aplonis corvina (Kittlitz, 1833)

  • RMNH 90380: adult, male. Interior of Kushai (Kosrae), Caroline Islands. Collector: Kittlitz, 1827. Syntype of Lamprothornis corvina Kittlitz, 1833.
  • RMNH 90381: juvenile, female. Interior of Kushai (Kosrae), Caroline Islands. Collector: Kittlitz, 1827. Syntype of Lamprothornis corvina Kittlitz, 1833.

Fatal rats
Four extinct species of starling are represented in the collection of Naturalis, three of which are Aplonis species which once inhabited islands in the Pacific. The fourth, the Réunion Starling, lived on Réunion in the Indian Ocean. All these endemic starlings have one thing in common: they were exterminated by rats, which were accidentally introduced on the various islands. Other introductions, such as of cats, goats, mongooses and man himself, may have played a negative role as well, but rats did most damage.

Kosrae (or Kusaie) and Ponape are two of the Caroline Islands, an archipelago in the West Pacific. For a long time it was thought that the two skins of the Kosrae Starling in St. Petersburg were all that remained of this species. However, in 1966 Gerlof Mees, curator of birds in Leiden, found two skins in the collection of Naturalis. Furthermore, the museum in St. Petersburg discovered it did not have two, but three skins of this starling.

The Kosrae Starling was discovered by Friedrich von Kittlitz during his voyage to the Pacific in the 1820s. As was the case with the Bonin Islands Grosbeak Chaunoproctus ferreorostris, von Kittlitz was the only naturalist who ever saw this species alive. In 1880 Otto Finsch, who later became curator of the bird collection in Leiden, visited the island, but was unable to find the starling. He did find closely related starlings on Pohnpei. The skin of a male Pohnpei Starling in Leiden was probably collected by Finsch, since it was obtained from the Godeffroy Museum in Hamburg, which financed Finsch's voyage. On Pohnpei the starlings survived much longer than on Kosrae. The last reliable sighting dates from 1956. In 1995 a specimen was shot by a local hunter and donated to American researchers. After that the species has not been no sighted again.

The Tasman Starling from Norfolk and Lord Howe Island are two forms of the same species, Aplonis fusca. The rats that were responsible for the extinction of the Lord Howe subspecies A. f. hulliana reached the island during the disaster with the SS Makambo in June 1918. Till that time the starling was considered a pest by the local fruit farmers. Almost simultaneously the Norfolk Island Starling, A. f. fusca, disappeared from nearby Norfolk Island.

Museum specimens
Only a handful of museum specimens of these starlings still exists. Naturalis possesses three skins of the Lord Howe form, two of which were donated by the museum in Sydney. The provenance of the third specimen is unknown. A fourth skin, an immature, was purchased from the dealer G.A. Frank and is labelled "Norfolk or Lord Howe".

Like the Tasman Starling, the Réunion Starling disappeared in a relatively short period. This is illustrated by letters of a certain Mr. de Cortimoy, who in the early 19th century, spent his childhood on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. De Cortimoy was very familiar with the endemic Réunion Starling. From one of his letters we known that as a child he killed dozens of them. The Réunion Starling was a ground dweller and could easily be hit with a stick. De Cortimoy also kept birds in a cage feeding them bananas, potatoes and cabbage. When he returned to Réunion after a ten-year stay in Paris, he found that the starling had vanished.

About 20 specimens of this beautiful starling are in museums all over the world. This is a surprisingly high number for an island species which became extinct at such an early date. The skin in Naturalis was part of the collection of C.J. Temminck and was therefore collected prior to 1820.


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