email a friend
printable version
Pohnpei Starling Aplonis pelzelni
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information
BirdLife Species Champion Become a BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Supporter
For information about BirdLife Species Champions and Species Guardians visit the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

This species has only been recorded with certainty once in the last 50 years (in 1995), and it has declined drastically since 1930, possibly through habitat loss, hunting and predation by introduced rats. However, it may remain extant since there have also been a number of unconfirmed reports, and further intensive surveys are required. Any remaining population is likely to be tiny and continuing to decline, and for these reasons it is treated as Critically Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

18 cm. Small, very plain, dark starling. Mostly dull sooty-brown with slightly paler wings and tail. Dark iris. Similar spp. Juvenile Micronesian Starling A. opaca may appear all dark and have dark eyes, but is larger, with heavier bill, and accompanies adults of its species. Voice Shrill see-ay with a bell-like quality.

Distribution and population
This species is endemic to the island of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, where it declined drastically sometime after 1930, when about 60 specimens were collected in a three-month period. It was not located in a survey conducted in 1983 (Engbring et al. 1990), and has been considered extinct by some authorities. However, since the 1970s, there have been several possible records (D. Buden in litt. 2008), unconfirmed sightings and reports from local people and, on 4 July 1995, a specimen was collected (Buden 1996). In October 2008, surveys apparently produced three records, although there is neither documentation nor evidence, in the form of skins, photographs, field notes, or anything similar for these sightings (J. Millett in litt. 2009). A seven-day expedition to the high ridges of the island in late 2010 did not produce any sightings of the species (BirdLife International 2011). A thorough survey of Pohnpei was conducted in 2012, including multiple point transects throughout the island, during which the bird was not detected (D. Kelser in litt. 2012).

Population justification
The population is assumed to be tiny (fewer than 50 individuals and mature individuals), with just three unconfirmed sightings, local reports and a single salvaged specimen since the 1970s.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be declining due to habitat loss, hunting, and predation by introduced species.

This is reputedly a species of dark, damp montane forest above 425 m, although it has also been observed in plantations (Engbring et al. 1990), and there are records from lower altitudes and unconfirmed reports from local residents that it was formerly more widespread, occurring in the lowlands and possibly on the adjacent Ant and Pakin atolls (Buden 1996). The most recent specimen was taken at 750 m in dwarf forest (Buden 1996). It usually occurs in pairs, feeding on insects and fruit. Small berries from shrubs form a large part of the diet, although seeds and grubs are also taken from the ground (Engbring et al. 1990). The nest is reportedly placed in the hollows of trees, but this has not been confirmed (Engbring et al. 1990). All three reports of the species from the 2008 survey were of birds in a large native tree Campnosperma brevipetiolata (J. Millett in litt. 2009).

The reason for the decline of this species is unknown, although habitat loss, bird hunting (a common practice among Pohnpeians), and predation by introduced rats Rattus spp. are all possible contributory factors (Buden 1996). Overall, there was a reduction of undisturbed upland forest on Pohnpei of over 60% from 1975 to 1995 (Buden 1996, 2000, B. Raynor in litt. 1995, 2012). The majority of the island's forests have been to various degrees converted or at least degraded to mixed forest (native species mixed with lowland secondary species), largely attributable to the cultivation of sakau (= kava) Piper methysticum as a major cash-crop (B. Raynor in litt. 2012). The fragmentation of such forest by sakau clearings also introduces and encourages the spread of invasive species in isolated areas throughout the forest. Although efforts over the past 20 years to reduce the amount of clear-cutting for sakau plantations have resulted in the slowing of native forest conversion rates, the trend remains negative (B. Raynor in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Underway
In 2007, the Conservation Society of Pohnpei and Island Conservation conducted a trial rat eradication on 5 small islands in Pohnpei to test and perfect rat eradication methods. A four day survey ('Operation Finding Mountain Starling') was carried out in October 2008 (J. Millett in litt. 2009). During a week-long expedition in 2010 and a thorough survey of Pohnpei in 2012 (conducted by the University of Missouri and the Conservation Society of Pohnpei), the species remained undetected (BirdLife International 2011, D. Kelser in litt. 2012).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to search exhaustively for this species and investigate any records of its presence (Engbring et al. 1990). Protect upland forests (Buden 1996, G. Wiles in litt. 1999).

Buden, D. W. 1996. Rediscovery of the Pohnpei Mountain Starling (Aplonis pelzelni). The Auk 113: 229-230.

Buden, D. W. 2000. A comparison of 1983 and 1994 bird surveys of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. Wilson Bulletin 112: 403-410.

Engbring, J.; Ramsey, F. L.; Wildman, V. J. 1990. Micronesian forest bird surveys, the Federated States: Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk, and Yap. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Honolulu.

King, B. 1978. April bird observations in Saudi Arabia. Journal of Saudi Arabian Natural History Society 21: 3-24.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Derhé, M., O'Brien, A., Shutes, S., Stattersfield, A., Symes, A., Taylor, J.

Buden, D., Millett, J., Raynor, B., Wiles, G., Kesler, D., O'Brien, M.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Aplonis pelzelni. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Sturnidae (Starlings)
Species name author Finsch, 1876
Population size 1-49 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 60 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species