A Starling Story: August 2021

Usually as I get closer to a bird, the bird begins to take notice and will fly off.

I remember in Antarctica finding a Kelp Gull nest and approaching the nest many times. The parent would always flee when I reached the exact same distance from the nest as before. Experienced birders know just how closely many species can be approached.

With this in mind, I was surprised to encounter a flock of juvenile starlings and have one not flee but actually come towards me in a menacing fashion.

European Starling (juvenile)
European Starling (juvenile)
European Starling (juvenile)
European Starling (juvenile)

This brought back a memory from long ago about starling behaviour.

One spring day, my cat brought home what was left of a starling that it had captured. “Blanche” did this even though I had attached a bell to her neck. Shortly after, an enraged neighbour informed me that there were 5 chicks in a now motherless nest and what was I going to do about it.

Having an unused birdcage about the apartment, I fetched it and went to gather the chicks. This led to a most interesting 3 weeks or so.

The chicks lived in the cage on a table in the kitchen. For food I provided a mixture of diced fruit, frozen fruit and a few insects that I was able to find. They thrived on this but a pattern began to emerge.

The five quickly settled on who was the “runt” of the litter and were mercilessly cruel with it. The principal four would gorge themselves on the food provided and then perch. The runt, nearly starving, would slowly approach the food dish and begin to taste. This triggered violent dives directly into the little one and resulted in considerable damage to its body which became rapidly deformed. I considered removing the poor one but it was clear that its life was soon to be snuffed.

After a week or so during which time I became very familiar with all of the voice patterns of juvenile starlings (and remain so today), it became clear that the top three birds had settled on who was to be the new victim. The same tricks of food deprivation were tried on this one but, having had more time to grow and strengthen, it was, for the most part, able to defend itself.

When it became clear that these four now resembled the juvenile starlings that I was seeing outdoors, I took the cage to a beach and released them. Looking like children racing from school on the final day before summer vacation, they all flew away with not one glance at the gentleman who had provided for them these many days.

Seeing today’s starling almost challenge me brought back these memories of agressive starling behaviour.

European Starling (juvenile)
European Starling (juvenile)
European Starling (juvenile)

NATURE POETRY

Clover and daisy went off together,
But the fragrant water lilies lie
Yet moored in the golden August weather.
– Celia Thaxter (1835 – 94)

Miles Hearn

4 thoughts on “A Starling Story: August 2021

  1. Patricia Lund

    One summer I found myself raising two starling chicks. My husband built a large walk-in compound that they could perch inside and I could walk in and feed them. Their favorite food was scrambled egg, rather carnivorous for them, and on it they thrived rapidly. They learnt to fly inside this large “cage” and when I released them they were very ready for their freedom but not ready to give up the scrambled egg feeds. They continued to come early in the morning kicking up quite a fuss until fed. Their names were Cheech and Chong as they were noisy right from the start.

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  2. Trudy Rising

    I also have a starling story, Miles; one I remember with great affection (toward both the starling and the people involved). Two young people suggested to my husband that they would care for our two sons one weekend about 46 years ago. We thought that was wonderful and went on our weekend camping trip. Arriving back home, we were met by a gang of neighbourhood children all running toward our backyard. Yes, a chick had fallen from a nest, and all were finding insects for the two care givers to delicately push into the chick’s beak. As it grew and all watched with great interest, the wee chick turned out to be, yes, a starling (not a lovely little chickadee or slightly larger cardinal, but a chick of a couple of nuisance, introduced members of an introduced species [pretty as they can be with their starry tipped feathers, before those tips wear off] ). Our sons named the bird Joe even though none of us knew whether or not it should be Josephine, instead. And, one day, of course, Joe left suddenly without even turning back to say, “thanks a lot; maybe I’ll see you again one day.” We cursed ourselves (not strongly) for not having thought to colour band him, but for several years we thought that a starling who seemed to turn up every year was good old Joe.

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  3. Lisa Volkov

    What a fascinating story! It sounds like you really tried, you certainly did your best for those orphans. Good for you! It was very sad for the runt, but it sounds like it ended up well for the rest of them, and as you say, you learned a great deal about Starlings in the process. Thanks, Miles!

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