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Meet Starbird

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Whew. It's been a crazy spring for bird rehab calls and conundrums. Because Bird Watcher's Digest is the only thing in Marietta with "bird" in its name, many people call there hoping to get baby birds taken off their hands. Some arrive in cardboard boxes, the donors conveniently overlooking the fact that magazine staffers are not wildlife rehabilitators. Surely they must know what to do with this poor baby bird.

As you might have deduced, these little living problems often land on my lap. It's easy in theory to say, "One shouldn't raise a starling (or house sparrow); they're an exotic species that doesn't belong here."
It's extremely difficult to look into the bright eyes of a little bag of guts and hope like this

and what? Wring its neck? Leave it in the weeds somewhere? Not a karmic option for someone who's just come through three days of feeding 35 bluebirds and chickadees back to health. There'd been enough death and destruction in my world of late. I couldn't deny him his life.

Starlings are very sneaky birds. They can build a nest and get a clutch of eggs laid before you know it. And two pairs had done just that in our martin gourds, completely uncontested by any martins. I knew there were nests in there; I'd seen the birds coming and going. When Bill called and sent me a cellphone picture of this little fellow from the BWD office, I thought, "I'll slip him in the nest with babies and let starlings raise him." I had checked just the afternoon before and seen two two-day old chicks gaping lustily.

When the bird arrived that evening, I was dismayed to find him a good nine days old. Yikes. Not a good mix with two-day-old chicks, but still worth a try to put him in the nest and see if the parents would adopt him and feed him along with their own young. I fed and rehydrated the little bird overnight until he was bright and eating and pooping well. The next morning I lowered the gourds, only to find the two babies dead, covered with chicken mites, a common parasite of starling nests, and a very common cause of their death at a young age. RATS!! Now what?

I peeked in the second gourd. Five warm eggs in a clean nest. I took the infested gourd down, plunged it in a bucket of hot water to kill all the mites, fed the baby starling again, took a deep breath, and put him in the mite-free nest with the five eggs. It was a crazy leap of faith, but worth a try. If the parents wouldn't adopt him, I'd figure out a Plan C. One thing I knew, I didn't want to raise him. Another thing I knew: I didn't want to euthanize him.

I withdrew to the house and watched through a window, well back where the starlings couldn't see me. The incubating bird returned and clung at the entrance to its gourd. It stared without entering at the new teen starling within. How had that hulking thing hatched from its half-incubated eggs? It flew away. 

Countless times over the next hour, the same scenario repeated. The pair would cling, peer in, and leave. And then something clicked, and they both dropped to the lawn and started foraging for all they were worth, grabbing grubs.  One member of the pair would hold a grub briefly, fly toward the box, land on a nearby perch, then eat the grub. Whoops. A bit conflicted there, a bit confused. I couldn't blame it. From eggs to half-grown young in one hour? I'd like to feed it, but I'm not so sure it's mine. I think I'll eat this grub myself.

About two hours later, I saw a bird enter the gourd with food, and I knew that I had just been released from duty as a starling surrogate. I whooped with joy and went on with my life. 

And Starbird went on with his. These photos were taken two days later, when he was being well-tended by his foster parent. 


Oh, jeez, Julie. What a nice read to start my day!
Thank you-

Great that the surrogates accepted him, Julie! I'm not a fan of starlings, but I certainly couldn't let a living being die just because of what it is.

Posted by Michelle June 2, 2011 at 6:23 AM

So will the foster bird fledge before the eggs hatch? Or will the eggs not hatch, now that the adults are feeding junior rather than sitting on the eggs?

The book "Arnie the Darling Starling" turned me into a starling admirer, foreign though they may be....

I am wondering the same as Michelle. Personally I don't mind the starlings. In the spring, though I do wish there weren't so many at once but in the fall I love the sound of their racket as they gather with all their blackbird cousins. turning suburban trees into New York City.

I don't know, having a post on a starling right after a post by Chet Baker is sort of like me getting up on a stage to tell jokes right after Robin Williams has finished... ;-)

Thank you. I love your blog. I've had a rather crapola day and this was just what I needed.

I've decided that humans have interfered with the natural order of things and at this point it's just a matter of getting along in the way most compatible with nature. I found your solution loving and in harmony. I love, love, love your blog -- and your appreciation for mother earth and all her critters.

Now you don't have to hold any more grubs in your teeth! LOL

Michelle and Beyond, the answer appears in Part Two, on Sunday. Glad everyone seems to empathize with my dilemma. when you have been working to save so many small lives, deliberately ending one is not an appealing prospect. Starling chix are uniquely sentient.

This made me smile. :) Who can deny a little birdie life, even if it is a starling? A warm hug for a kind heart. xoxox

"Starbird" What a perfect name.

Hi Julie, this was a bitter-sweet story for me. Just a few weeks ago I watched a baby starling bounce across my backyard as it squawked for its parents. My first thought was to take it out but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was only a day or two from taking flight and it settled down in some nearby shrubbery, so I left it be. Just a few days after that, several adult starlings invaded few of my purple martin gourds, killing two adult martins and destroying several nest filled with martin eggs. This was the first time I’ve had trouble with starlings, as most of my martin housing was equipped with the SREH. Unfortunately, these few gourds weren’t. After a couple days of trapping and shooting I had eliminated the problem, but the damage was done.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what the ethical thing to do is. I began to second guess my decision to let that young starling fledgling go just a week prior. I do struggle at times with it, but when the native birds in my yard are compromised by exotics like House Sparrows and European Starlings there is no hesitation on my part on taking swift action. I’m sure you can relate.

This is a great post, Julie! I do feel a bit differently about starlings now, having witnessed their murmurration for 2 nights on Cape Cod last September. Me, Kelly, Murre and Linder, just standing there in awe and wishing you were with us.

A wonderful solution. So glad those adults pitched in and did their part to help the orphan. Looking forward to the follow-up on this.

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