I’ve received a lot of feedback since publishing “All God’s Critters” and “A Few Random Thoughts.” I’m grateful so many read them. What follows is a quick summary with a couple of personal thoughts thrown in.
Some people don’t like European Starlings. Their scientific name, Sturnus vulgaris, could have something to do with it. Or it could be their inelegant shape or their harsh songs and calls. But most don’t like them because they were introduced, they’re invasive, they compete with native cavity nesters, and they dominate feeders.
Others look at them differently. While they acknowledge the above, they also note their iridescence, their intelligence, and the excitement of watching their murmurations. And they take pleasure in taking their pictures and see them as vehicles for learning about birds.
Let’s drill down a bit.
I received comments like this one from Ryan: “It’s a shame that such beautiful and intelligent birds are so invasive and cause habitat destruction as well as irreparable harm to native species.” Eric wrote much the same thing: “Species such as starlings or house sparrows are definitely ‘trash birds’ given what they do to our native species.”
But I also received comments like this one from Nancy: “My 4 year old granddaughter was admiring a beautiful European Starling on my feeder this morning. She said, ‘Grandmama, look at that pretty bird. He has pretty colors.'” And Jim followed up with these thoughtful and important words: “I have little sympathy for starlings or house sparrows or pigeons, but without them people who live in some of the most dreary sections of our inner cities would have very little if any birdlife around them.”
That leads me to this. I not only received comments from Ryan, Eric, Nancy, Jim, and many others—comments both pro and con—but I received a story from Joanne. It’s a story about a life lesson provided by a European Starling: a lesson that put her in the camp of those who see the species differently.
My husband and I went to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA mid-day on a cold, snowy February day in 2007. We entered the flight room just about feeding time. We were the only ones there, so we chatted the docent and he shared knowledge of some of the birds with us. He said it was getting close to feeding time and and asked if we interested in helping. Yes, we certainly were! He said we could start by hand-feeding the birds.
We each put one hand out, palm up, and he put bits of food in our hand. Stay still and quiet, he said, and see if they will come. All sorts of amazing and gorgeous birds landed nearby, all colors of the rainbow. All exotic, except for one European Starling. “He snuck in one day and we couldn’t get him out,” the docent explained. “So we figured we’d just let him stay. Why not?” Well, that’s cool – but it was a starling, after all. Intruder. I had my eyes on the exotics.
And suddenly – a flash of wings! Coming to my hand!
It was the starling.
Reflexively, I pulled my hand away and it flew off. Everything seemed quiet for a moment. Then the starling flew to Jon’s hand. And Jon let it feed. And he appreciated it. He said he hadn’t realized how beautiful starlings actually were, because he’d never been that close to one. Then I looked with fresh eyes – and saw its beauty. The spangles are really stunning, up close on a living bird. And the bird was also really cute and friendly as it fed, looking at Jon and seemingly getting to know him. While totally ignoring me.
Then the exotics started to fly!
My hand stayed empty. At least for what seemed like nearly an eternity. Then a few came to me, tentatively. But Jon definitely had curried favor and trust and the birds responded in kind. He kept getting more food and more birds! Yes, I enjoyed the birds that visited me, but I was actually kind of jealous that the birds really favored my husband!
And that was the moment I learned an important lesson.
“Don’t diss a starling.”
A life lesson.
Try to enjoy what’s given and avoid disrespecting anyone/anything based on bias or prejudice. You have no idea how beautiful something might be until you open yourself to it. And it DOES matter how you treat even the least one. Even the birds will take note of how you treat others.
Joanne Howl, DVM
West River, MD
And This Just In
Thanks so much to Joanne for sending that story along. Stories like Joanne’s and comments like the ones mentioned above are the “lifeblood of the blogosphere.” I really enjoy receiving them and respond to each one.
A few days ago, I experienced a first. While I was out taking pictures, I saw a bird fall from the sky at the hands of hunters. In my next blog, I’ll share with you how I responded as well as photos of the hunting party.
Quip, Question, Quote
It’d be very easy just to repeat Joanne’s final paragraph, but I promised a reader I’d close with the following.
We’ll end with two lines from Martha Steele’s August 2020 Bird Observer column. I love Martha’s writing and have quoted her often.
“In the face of what seems to be an increasingly troubled country and world, I take refuge in the birds and the natural world.”
“I hope that together we find common ground and our way forward, just as our avian friends and other wildlife find theirs.”
Thanks so much for reading. Happy New Year to you and yours.