A plea for the humane treatment of Wiggles the pet starling

Wiggles is a disabled human-raised pet starling that was
confiscated by the government in the State of Pennsylvania. You can familiarize
yourself with the story here – https://www.facebook.com/wigglesthestarling/info

The owner’s son has autism and the whole family has been
traumatized by a government raid on their home.

My contribution to the letter writing campaign in support of
Wiggles is as follows:

“I am writing this letter in the hope that it will help the
cause of trying to reunite the tame starling Wiggles with his owner.

I live with two rescued starlings. People found them both at
the age of about five days old and raised them in captivity. Imprinting in
starlings I understand starts at about the age of one week old. Both of my
starlings see humans as their flock. Typically when it’s time for their “out”
time and the cage door is opened, they explode out of it and fly straight to
me. After spending some time with me they take their bath, explore the room a
bit and come back to me at intervals to visit. One or both birds usually ends
up napping on my arm or shoulder after they’ve been out awhile. Although my
understanding is that it’s not typical for starlings to enjoy being petted, my
starling Pooky does like it when he’s in certain moods.

My two starlings are no more “wild” than any other pet bird
you could have. They do everything other more common pet birds do – they play
with toys, they play with their human, they learn to perform certain tasks on
command such as entering the cage when their out time is done and coming when
called, they talk with a vocabulary of dozens of words and phrases and
sometimes use human words in the correct context. Clearly they understand the
meaning of some words I use with them, such as “worms”, “cheese” and “come

My starlings like the company of most other humans and will
land on them and climb on them. They are even friendly to the vet and vet tech
when they get their annual checkups. Needless to say a wild starling would not
do this and it’s good that they don’t because given the way many people feel
about starlings that behavior would be likely to get them killed or abused
cruelly if they were turned loose outdoors. I do believe that they have a
special bond with the people who raised them even if they do like other humans.
My Dad sometimes watches my starlings for me when I go out of town. From time
to time if I’m away I’ll call Dad and he’ll put his phone on speakerphone so
the birds can hear my voice. They tend to respond with an excited chirp when
they hear it. Once when I came to pick them up, my other starling Attila did
back flips on her perch. It’s hard to say what’s going on in an animal’s mind
but it sure looked like excitement to me.

Recently I went on a four day trip and when I went to get the
birds they both got extra animated and started to sing and chatter. Dad said
that was more chattering than they had done during the previous four days. I
let them out for a time before I put them in their travel cage to take them
home and Pooky snuggled under my chin and let me pet him for nearly an hour.
His usual tolerance for this is about five minutes. I don’t think Pooky would
have behaved this way if he weren’t glad to see me.

It is rumored that a rehabber is currently caring for
Wiggles. If true I hope the rehabber is kind to Wiggles. Even if that is so I
believe Wiggles would be a lot happier in his original home due to what I’ve
observed in my own birds’ behavior and some things stated in the book “Holistic
Care for Birds” by David McCluggage, DVM and Pamela Leis Higdon, an author of
several books on bird care and training. On page 97 it states: “If you used to
work part time but have taken a full-time job, your bird will become
emotionally stressed… If you develop a new relationship with someone the bird
will feel neglected; they know you are diverting some of your love and time
from them.” If those kinds of things can stress a bird, what kind of suffering
is it experiencing by being confiscated by strangers and taken to a strange
place, possibly a succession of strange places, and being in the care of
unknown people who may not even like the bird or care what happens to it? There
are lots of people out there who hate starlings. The thought of our bird being
in the hands of such a person is the stuff of nightmares for starling owners
(literally I have had nightmares about this). In real life when I found my
first baby starling I posted on Facebook that I had found one and what advice
people could give. A couple of ideas were “drown it” or “put it in a plastic
bag and tie it to the exhaust pipe of your car”. Five years later that bird is
sitting on my forearm getting ready to take a nap by singing herself to sleep,
murmuring such phrases as “you’re sweet” and “I love you” as I write this. I’m
sure glad I didn’t take any of that advice!

How many times have we heard moving stories of dogs and cats
traveling great distances and enduring hardships to find their lost owners? Are
starlings less intelligent and have fewer emotional needs than these animals? I
don’t think so and I don’t think any starling owner or expert on birds thinks

The reason so many people have pet starlings is that unlike
native birds, we fear with good reason that to turn them over to a rehabber
could be a death sentence. I don’t have two pet starlings because I desire to
take wild birds out the wild. When I find a baby of a native species I take it
to a rehabber ASAP if I can’t put it back in the nest. In the case of starlings
if we want the bird to live we have no option but to raise it ourselves or
adopt it out if we can’t reunite it with the natural parents. Once we see what
it’s like to live with a tame, human imprinted starling, even though it means
extra work many of us feel blessed to have such a close bond with a member of
another species and we become passionate advocates for the humane treatment of
starlings. I’ve had pet parakeets before and I loved them very much but the
bond between them and me was not quite as close because I did not raise them
myself. In my opinion it is cruel to torment Wiggles’ owner with thoughts of
how he’s being treated. How would you feel if your close animal companion was
ripped away from you and you weren’t being allowed visitation or to even know
for sure who had him and if he was suffering? I feel very fortunate that I live
in a state where I will never have the experience of having my starling family
torn from me by the government. Once due to unfortunate life circumstances I was
separated involuntarily from a pet turtle that I had raised from an egg
and I didn’t know her fate for about 10 or so years. I eventually found out
that the son of a veterinarian had adopted her. What a load off my mind that
was. I had carried that grief and guilt for so many years and it was such a
relief to be able to let it go because she was in good hands.

In 2005 I was reading some accounts of the evacuation of the
area affected by Hurricane Katrina and I read of the mental torment of a woman
who was not allowed to bring her pet along and it was presumed drowned or dead of neglect from being abandoned. I remember the woman was quoted as saying “I hope she forgives me.” I’m crying
just thinking about it. Please don’t inflict this kind of suffering on human
beings for no rational reason. It’s cruel and inhumane to both the human and
the animal.

I’d like to address the issue of whether the confiscation of
a pet starling makes any logical sense. It is understandable to not want to
encourage the import of invasive species into a state. However the “horse is
out of the barn” so to speak in the case of starlings. They were already far
beyond their importation origin on the East coast by the 1920s and have been in
every contiguous US state for many decades. Keeping a starling in captivity is
not going to add to the wild population – rather it does the opposite by
removing the bird from the wild breeding population. My understanding from what
I’ve read on starlingtalk.com and other resources is that starlings are very
difficult to breed in captivity. People who want to breed starlings on purpose
are few and far between and from what I’ve read it’s very difficult to do even
if you really work at it. My two starlings are male and female and have been
living together for three years and I’ve seen no evidence that the female wants
to breed with anyone and if the male wants to breed with anyone his preference
is me (judging by the fact that his singing and wing-waving are directed toward
me) since he’s imprinted on humans! My understanding is that it’s not unusual
for pet birds to prefer their human as a potential mate. So there is not much
danger of increasing the starling population that way. What is the intent of
the law in Pennsylvania against having starlings as pets, if there is even such
a law? Is it for the welfare of the bird? Clearly not, since it’s apparently
legal to slaughter them if you feel like it. Who does it benefit then? I think
Pennsylvania needs to join the other 46 states and show common sense by
considering the starlings’ special status and allowing them to be cared for in
loving homes. In Wiggles’ case he is disabled and could not survive in the wild
anyway even if he was raised by other starlings and had a chance for a good
wild life. Human-imprinted starlings are not wild and do not know how to act
like a wild bird and have a much better chance of a happy life in their own
home with their own family.

We would like to think that government officials who have the power of life and death over animals, whether wild or domestic, actually care about their welfare and not just about showing off how much power they have over us. Please give us hope that you actually care about the animal by reuniting Wiggles with the family who loves him and he’s emotionally bonded with.

Carolyn Hasenfratz

Brentwood, Missouri”

3 thoughts on “A plea for the humane treatment of Wiggles the pet starling

  1. It’s now almost March 2016. Was Wiggles ever reunited with his original parent?
    This is just one of the sad stories of govt officials wielding their power over the
    ordinary citizen and creatures who are confiscated even when it’s harmful to all involved. This was just so very wrong.

    1. I agree with you totally, this story had myself and many other people VERY upset. Here is what I heard through the grapevine – Wiggles was due to be euthanized and a person or persons who had access rescued Wiggles and took her to Tennessee where she is living now at a bird shelter or at home with people who work at the bird shelter (I’m not sure which). This person or persons who did the rescue do not want to go public for fear of retaliation so I don’t know who it is. I thank God for them whoever they are! The former owner of Wiggles moved to another state (I don’t blame her!). Wiggles is doing well at the new home. I’ve seen video of Wiggles snuggling and playing with the new owners. Wiggles was not treated well by the State of Pennsylvania, was not properly fed or housed at the “shelter” (from what I heard was more like a bird concentration camp) and had some injuries and health issues because of that but has overcome them from what I heard and has only the original disabilities to contend with which had kept her from being releasable. These disabilities do not keep her from having a happy life as a pet and she is by all reports a happy bird again. It’s a miracle she survived! I’m really glad you asked, I just checked out Wiggles’ Facebook page and there is a recent picture of her! https://www.facebook.com/wigglesthestarling

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