A few words (very few) in honor of starlings

by | May 25, 2021 | Miscellaneous | 0 comments

Like many of you, my wife and I spent considerable time during the pandemic watching the birds in our backyard, and then invested a not-inconsiderable amount of money on making our backyard more hospitable to those birds. (We have been aided in this effort by the fact that our outside cat, Pepper, shows little interest in birds — unless a siskin bonks into a window and then wanders around, dazed, right in front of where Pepper happens to be snoozing. We have intervened with success on these occasions, but that’s a topic for another post.)

In any event, we’ve added feeding locations and a birdbath — taking pains to keep those clean — and have been delighted by the variety of birds that regularly grace our backyard.

And then there are the starlings. Any backyard bird-watcher can tell you about the starlings, so I’ll leave it at that.

About a year ago, we noticed that the starlings were attacking our feeders with a remarkably high level of frenetic intensity, even by starling standards. Then we noticed that they were accompanied by gray fuzzballs — about the same size as the starlings — and we had to do a little research to ascertain what type of bird had the temerity to accompany starlings on their feeding raids.

But we should have guessed from this detail: Sometimes on the feeding tray, the gray fuzzballs would stand next to a starling and hold their mouths open, waiting for another bird to feed them — even as an ample supply of seed sat right at their feet.

Yes, these were juvenile starlings, roughly three weeks old, waiting for a parent to drop morsels into their beaks. My wife and I felt a touch of sympathy for the parents.

The juveniles returned on cue this year, exactly a year after we first noticed them.

This year, we noticed additional details.

Even after we installed the birdbath (with a floating solar-powered water pump that frankly works better than it should), we found that some birds still preferred the very low-tech option we had placed earlier in the backyard — a plastic tub, the kind you buy lettuce in and then feel guilty after you’ve eaten the lettuce and still have a big plastic tub hanging around. But if you fill the tub with water, it becomes a cheap birdbath. Last week, we watched as a parent starling took a bath in the tub, its wings flapping to splash water around, while two juveniles stood outside the tub observing — and also moving their wings as if they were in the tub as well. A day or so later, we saw a couple of juveniles taking the plunge.

We also noticed this scene: An adult on the ground, picking up scattered seeds, being pursued by three juveniles, beaks wide open and awaiting. My wife and I laughed, recognizing a shared experience that transcends species. It doesn’t matter if you have wings or not: Every parent knows that feeling.

A video Diane shot earlier this year, showing juveniles at the feeding tray, being ignored by the adults. The juveniles likely will bitterly remember this moment when they sit down to peck out their memoirs. I assure you that the sound at the end of the video is not a gunshot.

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