A Cape glossy starling seen in bright sunlight reflects a particularly striking colour – an iridescent dark blue that shimmers vividly as the bird moves and the sun dances off its feathers. If it should move into the shade, though, the iridescence is lost and the bird becomes rather dull by comparison. It is the bright sunlight that brings the “glossy” to its name. The bird’s conspicuous orange-yellow eyes are a sharp contrast to the dark blue whatever the light, and its black bill, legs and feet complete the picture. The sexes are alike in plumage, with the males being slightly larger than the females.
Common residents throughout most of the southern African region, with the exception of Mozambique, the Cape glossy starling is about 23 cm in length and is quite gregarious by nature, often being found in pairs or small flocks. It prefers wooded savannas and in the drier regions is often to be found in the riverine bush, where there is easy access to the more common items in its diet – fruit, nectar and a variety of insects. It is also frequently found in suburban gardens, being well adapted to the presence of people and quite content to feed on easy handouts.
The song of the Cape glossy starling is a warble that may be sustained for quite long periods and may include sounds picked up from the bird’s local environment (telephones, burglar alarms), while its call is a loud “turreeu”, which points to the origin of its common Afrikaans name – spreeu. Its official Afrikaans name is Kleinglansspreeu which can be translated as “small glossy spreeu”.
Cape glossy starlings are monogamous and usually nest in natural cavities in trees, or the holes made by woodpeclers or barbets, where they are sometimes parasitized by the Great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius). The female Cape glossy starling lays a clutch of two to four pale blue eggs.
The scientific name of the Cape glossy starling is Lamprotornis nitens; Lamprotornis from the Greek for a bright or shining bird and nitens from the Latin for shining. Thus a bright and shining bird, and it couldn’t be more accurate than that.