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Onychognathus morio (Red-winged Starling)

Rooivlerkspreeu [Afrikaans]; Isomi [Xhosa]; iNsomi, iSomi [Zulu]; Letšoemila, Letšomila [South Sotho]; Gwitso [Shona]; Roodvleugelspreeuw [Dutch]; Rufipenne morio [French]; Rotschwingenstar [German]; Estorninho-d'asa-castanha [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Sturnidae > Genus: Onychognathus

Onychognathus morio (Red-winged Starling) Onychognathus morio (Red-winged Starling)

Red-winged starling female, World of Birds, Hout Bay. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

Red-winged starling male, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches from Ethiopia through Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi to southern Africa. Here it is common from northern Mozambique and Zimbabwe to eastern Botswana and South Africa (as well as Lesotho and Swaziland), while absent from the Karoo and Kalahari. It generally prefers rocky outcrops and gorges in highland grasslands, occasionally visiting forests for fruit, but in recent times it has flourished in urban areas, roosting and nesting in buildings.

Distribution of Red-winged starling in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Eggs and fledglings have been recorded as prey of the following animals:

Brood parasites

It has been recorded as host of the Great spotted cuckoo.

General Habits

In Summer breeding pairs avoid other pairs, roosting at their own nest site. However, in Winter it forms large flocks of up to around 500 birds, which often roost communally in trees, cliffs and buildings. It can cause serious problems for people living in buildings used as roost sites, as the starlings make a lot of noise and may attack human residents.


It mainly eats fruit supplemented with arthropods, nestlings and lizards, foraging on the ground and in vegetation, gleaning food from leaves and branches. It is an extremely adaptable feeder, as it removes ticks from antelope, picks up scraps at picnic sites, takes food from the intertidal zone and scavenges meat off carcasses. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • It is monogamous with pairs staying together for several years, possibly life, often producing two broods in one breeding season.
  • The nest is built by both sexes, consisting of a large flat platform built of sticks, grass and rootlets secured together with mud. The interior is usually lined with grass or other fine material, such as horse or even human hair, plucked from peoples' heads. It is typically placed on a rock or building ledge, on beam or at the base of a palm frond; it has also been recorded to use a wrecked fishing trawler 200m offshore and a broadcasting tower at the University of Cape Town.
  • Egg-laying season is from September-March.
  • It lays 1-5 eggs, which are incubated mainly by the female for about 13-14 days, while the male feeds her at the nest.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents on a diet of pieces of insects, leaving the nest after about 22-28 days. The first brood of the breeding season are usually chased away by their parents about 2 weeks later, but the second brood may remain dependent on the adults for 5-6 weeks after leaving.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.