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PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Searching among the ecosystems and hundreds of species of birds at the National Aviary of Pittsburgh, two of the most iridescent species in the tropical forest exhibit caught my eye. The Golden-breasted Starling and Fairy Bluebird, both of which have bright plumage, stood out among the other species in their exhibit.

As I observed the two birds, I began to notice commonalities and differences in their physical features and behaviors. Both species were about the size of an American Robin, and hopped around at medium height in the trees. The Golden-breasted Starling was more curious, and would fly right by my head at times or walk around on the path, while the Fairy Bluebird hid in the trees and was harder to locate.

Interestingly enough, after observing these birds in the tropical ecosystem for a while, I walked into the wetland exhibit, and there were Golden-breasted Starlings in there too. As soon as I returned to campus, I had to look into this more. I found that the Golden-breasted Starling is actually a grassland/savannah species, but the grassland ecosystem was the only exhibit in the Aviary that didn’t have any of these Starlings. The Fairy Bluebird, however, is a true tropical forest bird that lives in southern Asia.

This observation has led me to wonder if Golden-breasted Starlings could actually live in tropical and wetland ecosystems in the wild, and if so, do they already exist in these habitats. According to many sources such as Handbook of the Birds of the World, the Golden-breasted Starling only lives in eastern Africa. It is difficult to see if this Starling could live in any other climates in the wild based on just its behavior in the Aviary. The Aviary is controlled, safe environment with unlimited food and no predators, so it’s relatively easy for birds to adapt in different ecosystems. If the Golden-breasted Starling were to be introduced into an ecosystem other than the grasslands of Arica in the wild, it would have to be done carefully over a long period of time. Adding a new species to an environment is risky and could negatively alter the original food chain there.

Green indicates Golden-breasted Starling distribution. Blue indicates the distribution of Fairy Bluebirds.

After doing some more research, I discovered that the Golden-breasted Starling and Fairy Bluebird are both species of the Passerine order. This order includes more than half of all bird species. Passerines are known as “perching” birds because they have three toes pointing forward and one pointing back that are ideal for perching on tree branches.

Though these two birds are in the same order, have many physical similarities, and were both in the tropical ecosystem at the Aviary, they will probably never exist together in the wild.


Written by Katie Nicholson, Tweetspeak correspondent

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