Rodrigues Starlings or White Mascarene Starling

The Rodrigues Starling (Necropsar rodericanus), also known as White Mascarene Starling, is a hypothetical species whose existence is based on an old travel report, a few subfossil bones, and a museum skin from Liverpool which was later identified by paleontologist Storrs Olson as albinistic specimen of the Martinique Trembler.

In 1726 there was a travel report by French explorer Julien Tafforet who described a bird later named Testudophaga bicolor. According to Tafforet it lived on “Ilet au Mát” (today Île Gombrani, an offshore islet of Rodrigues). It had reached the size of a blackbird. The plumage was white. Tail and wings were dark. Legs and bill were pale yellow. Its diet consisted of turtle eggs.

Rodrigues Starling

In 1874 Revd. Henry Horrocks Slater found subfossil bone remains on Rodrigues which were the basis of the first scientifical discussion by Albert Günther and Alfred Newton in 1879. According to Günther and Newton it was closely related to the Bourbon Crested Starling and so they classified this species into the genus Fregilupus.

Finally in 1898 there was a unique skin in the World Museum Liverpool. It was described by Henry Ogg Forbes under the name Necropsar leguati and sketched by bird illustrator John Gerrard Keulemans. This specimen was obtained by Edward Smith-Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby from bird collector Jules Verreaux in 1850 and was on display in the Liverpool Museum since then.

However, in April 2000 DNA-analysis of that skin in the Smithsonian Institution led by Storrs Olson had shown that the Liverpool specimen was nothing more than a misidentified and mislabled albinistic specimen of the Martinique Trembler (Cinclocerthia gutturalis). (Olson et al., Bull. B.O.C. 125:31, 2003). The IUCN regards the Rodrigues Starling as valid species because Tafforet’s report and Slater’s bones provide evidence that the species existed.

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