The Truth About Starlings

1-MowgliLastDay (10)Starlings were sacred birds to the ancient Celts. The Druids held Starlings in honor, and in fact, the word for “starling” in Welsh is “drudwen” or “drudwy”. The Mabinogion speaks of Branwen, sister to the giant hero-god King Bran, who was imprisoned and forced into servitude for King Matholwch of Ireland, despite having borne him a son. Branwen trained her pet Starling to speak and sent him to her brother, who waded across the sea and defeated the Irish, freeing Branwen. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branwen ]

The first European Starlings brought to the United States were a group of about sixty birds which were released in Central Park, NY by a Shakespeare lover who hoped to have all of the birds in the Bard’s plays represented in the park. He was caught, too late to prevent the release of these birds, and shown the error of his ways. All of the Starlings now in the USA are believed to be descendants of those sixty birds. (House or English Sparrows were also released in the same way around that time.)

Starlings are now endangered, in fact “red-list” endangered, in their native Great Britain. Destruction of their natural nesting sites has depleted the numbers of breeding pairs. It is true that vast murmurations of Starlings that perform amazing aerobatic feats are still recorded in the UK, but these are winter migratory flocks, not nesting residents. Those areas to which Starlings have been imported may be the species’ last great hope of survival. Please visit this site for more information:
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/mar/28/rsbp-garden-birdwatch-survey

Many backyard birders claim that they dislike Starlings because the Starlings “eat all the seeds” that are put out for their other birds. In fact, Starlings are not seed-eaters, and cannot even digest the hard shells. Starlings are a biologically primitive species, and, unlike most songbirds found at our feeding stations, they have no crops. European Starlings are primarily insectivores and, in fact, do an incredible job of keeping our yards free of some of the bad buggies out there. They are the #1 predator of Japanese Beetle larvae, in fact. If you love your roses, you had best not try to chase those Starlings off! If you’re seeing Starlings at your feeders, it’s far more likely that they are eating the suet, peanuts, or cracked corn in the mix rather than the hard-coated seeds. They may even be chowing down on the insects that contaminate the seed mix.

Mozart had a pet Starling, probably the most famous of this amazing species in captivity. He was incredibly fond of his bird, and even wrote a eulogy for the Starling when it died. He also noted, in his journal, an instance of the bird “re-writing” a portion of one of his musical pieces. He described a section of Piano Concerto No. 17 in G. He recorded the modification the bird had sung and wrote, “That was fine!” You can read about Mozart’s Starling on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozart’s_starling

Starlings were called the “poor man’s mynah” in Europe and Great Britain. Why? Because they talk. They talk well — better than many birds more commonly thought of as “mimics”. They readily pick up human speech and, having lived with three talking Starlings for a number of years now, I will gladly attest to the fact that they not only talk — they converse. It is known that many birds, including Starlings, learn the communicative song of their pack. It’s also widely accepted that these sounds have a pattern and meaning, with different “words” used to relay consistent concepts among the flock. Starlings don’t seem to mind if their adopted flock is a human one. They, like their wild counterparts, pick up the flock’s language and often use it appropriately.

Starlings imprint very easily on human caregivers, if they are quite young when taken in. My three were tiny babies barely out of the egg, so even though I attempted to keep them at arm’s length so they would not imprint, they bonded to me and my family. Stars and Stripes, in particular, are extremely attached. If loose in the house, they have no desire to fly around and exercise — they aim for the nearest human head or shoulder to hang out with their special friends.

All three of my Starlings talk, and well. Stars, however, is the one who most enjoys conversation. She often seems to know what she is saying, and recombines words and phrases appropriately. She never fails to amaze me with the things she comes out with. I wish the birds weren’t so camera shy, as I have been trying for years now to catch her “I’m watching Mommy!” routine on video. I do have a new clip on my website of a brief “watching Mommy” interaction. It is located in the “Nastasi Birds” post, which can be found at the link below.

Not long ago, I was watching an episode of a DVR-recorded television show in the den. The television is near our large aviary. Stars likes to sit on a high rope perch, where she can look down at the screen. An email came through on my cell phone, so I paused the playback for a few minutes to tend to it.

Stars, began to chatter. She started with, “Hi, Hi, Hello, Hi.” After each greeting, I absentmindedly responded in kind. Finally, sounding quite insistent and even frustrated, she blurted out, “I see to Mommy’s TV!”

Apparently she was growing impatient that I had paused her show. I pressed Play, and she happily returned to watching the program.

It seems that Starlings like psychological crime shows. “Perception” has a new little member of its fan club. Too bad it’s been canceled. We won’t tell Stars, okay?

My three little friends make me smile on days I can’t find much else to smile about. They started saying “Mommy” and “Where’s Mommy?” while I was hospitalized back in 2008, in horrific pain, thinking I was going to lose my leg. What a great motivator it was; my desire to hear that in person contributed to my determination to get well enough to come home. Their antics, humor and affection still keep me going.

It is not a far stretch to say that without these little feathered clowns, I might not have recovered as well as I have. Laughter is the best medicine, and there were days back then when the only laughter that could break through the pain was a gift from my Starlings.

There are some who deem Starlings pests, and even claim they should all be killed. To them, I’ll take the liberty of paraphrasing the Spirit of Christmas Present, when he said to Ebenezer Scrooge, “Will you decide what [birds] shall live, what [birds] shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s [mynah].”

I offer my sincere apologies to Mister Dickens, but I shall never apologize for my Starlings. They’re the best!

***

A Cautious Endnote: While in most states of the US, it is legal to keep Starlings (and English, aka “House” Sparrows) in captivity, this is not true in every state and every area. Before adopting a Starling or Sparrow, be sure to check with your state and local regulations, which may over-ride federal law.

Links to my Starlings talking can be found on the “My Animal Family” page of the website. Just scroll down to the birds’ section of the page.

Advertisements

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s