Tag Archives: pet European Starlings

Baby Starling Adventures

Believe it or not I have another baby starling! No name yet. I guess I am trying not to get too attached in case it doesn’t make it. But I think it’s far too late for that isn’t it! Doesn’t take long to fall in love with these little ones. I got it through my online pet starling rescue group. The finder said it was sneezing and on Monday it was having bad breathing problems so I got it to Family Pet Hospital. They were able to see it on short notice (THANK YOU!) and prescribed antibiotics which I will give for two weeks. It’s doing much better. Please pray that it makes it!

Here is Family Pet Hospital’s FB page https://www.facebook.com/familypetstl They treat birds, chameleons, bats, geckos, snakes, fish, iguanas, o’possums, vultures, bats, scorpions, frogs, aardvarks, eagles, hedgehogs, turkeys, pigs, peafowl, monitors, etc. They have an aviary in there with canaries, finches and keets. My kind of place! Oh yeah dogs and cats too. Check out their patient photos!

My new little one is on antibiotics and is doing better. I still hear the lung crackling sound. Any suggestions for supportive care? I’m making sure it’s warm enough and I have a damp t-shirt partially over the bucket it’s in for humidity and quiet. It’s eating starling baby mix and I’m also giving it bits of apple and blueberry dipped in yogurt. Poops look good. I take it out once every 45 minitues to feed and change the paper towel so it’s not sitting in poop. It’s averaging one poop per feeding.

Now I’m going to back up a little and explain how I got to the point of adopting baby starlings. For people in the know about starlings, they are one of the most desirable pet birds you can have. They are admittedly high maintenance, but as far as rewards to the owner such as bonding, interactivity, beauty, singing, training and talking with human words they are everything a bird lover could want in a companion bird. Although where I live it’s generally illegal to posess wild birds, European Starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, are one of a very few exceptions because they are not native to the US and are considered invasive. In my area there are no wild bird rehab facilities or rehabbers that I know of who will take a rescued baby starling and raise it for release. If a baby starling needs help, the choices are to let it die, take it to a facility to be euthanized, or find someone to adopt it.

I acquired my first starling, Attila, in 2009 and my second, Pooky, in 2011. Attila is still with me but I lost Pooky suddenly to unknown causes last December.

I was distraught for a long time over losing Pooky, it’s still hard for me to look at that graphic above or to talk about it. My other starling Attila was very disturbed as well. She’s better now but she still faces the direction his cage used to be for several hours a day, I wonder if she’s looking for him still. To help both of us, Tom and I adopted two budgies, Thoth and Horus, and two zebra finches, Rocky and Adrienne. These are great birds and we love them. Attila and I needed their actions and song to help with our loss. They are not a substitute for starlings no matter how wonderful they are. So I found some starling rescue groups online and put myself on the waiting list to adopt one.

In late April one of my groups announced that there were three babies who needed rehoming in Tennessee. I was the closest person available to go get them, so I did it. Two of them did not make it. The finder told me they were looking bad while I was still on my way there and when I first saw them I didn’t have high hopes, so I was disappointed but not surprised that I lost those two. A lot of times by the time a baby bird gets into human hands they could have been through a lot. Going hungry, getting cold, sick, injured, etc. The survivor is doing great and his name in Theophilus.

Theophilus is Greek for “lover of God”. I was thinking while driving to go get him that if any of the birds survived I was going to give them a spiritual name. I had a lot of time to think about what a leap of faith I was taking by jumping in my car to take a pretty long drive to get birds that might not even be alive by the time I could get there. It was kind of crazy, but it felt good to do something crazy after months of doldrums from grief and inactivity from an arm injury and other problems from the last few years. I texted the finder along the way, letting him know that as long as any of them were still alive I was going to keep coming. If any of them had a chance, I wanted to give it to them if possible.

Here is a video of Tom feeding Theophilus about a month ago. He’s in superb health from what I can tell and is super active. So active he’s a handful! They calm down when they get older.

The new little one is unnamed as of yet, but I’m more and more hopeful that it’s going to survive so I’ve started brainstorming! It’s perching, preening, and flapping wings to practice. It still sneezes a bit and I think there is still a crackling sound, but it’s growing and the feathers look fantastic. It’s had six days of a two-week antibiotic prescription. I think it’s getting ready to jump out of the bucket it’s in. When that happens it will move to a baby cage / travel cage and I’ll take it with me everywhere I go until it’s eating on its own.

Here are some past articles I’ve written about starlings:

Are Starlings Taking Over Your Bird Feeders?

Baby Bird Rescue 2014

Pooky Visited Missouri Botanical Garden Yesterday

A plea for the humane treatment of Wiggles the pet starling

Bringing Back the Human Touch – Part 1

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”

Baby Bird Rescue 2014

Normally when I find a nestling baby bird on the ground, I take it to a wild bird rehabber. In 2009 three baby birds fell out of my neighbor’s dryer vent that I had to deal with differently – they were starlings. I knew what species they were and exactly when they were hatched because from my desk I can see out the patio door. On the building adjacent to my condo there is a little ledge that the starlings use as a staging area where they land before entering the dryer vent. That landing area is in direct view of where I sit while I work. It’s lucky for these birds I knew the species before I brought them in to a rehabber. Why is that? Many rehabbers will euthanize all starlings brought to them because they are not a native bird. They are believed by many to be destructive to other birds and are hated and persecuted by some people. By the time I called the wild bird rehab about my first batch of starlings, two of them had died – now that I know more about them I realize these two were never really healthy and they did not grow much before they died . When I spoke to the rehabber on the phone I was down to one bird and we had bonded with each other. I had been warned that the rehabber might want to euthanize my bird because I had done extensive reading on starlingtalk.com to learn how to care for them and I was made aware of how starlings are usually treated. The rehabber I spoke to seemed eager for me to keep it as a pet and I interpreted that as knowledge on her part that it would be euthanized and she knew it would be better off with me. I’m not 100% sure that my interpretation was correct but I did look on that organizations Facebook page a few days ago and looked through several years’ worth of photos of bird clients of theirs and there was not one starling picture. As common as they are it seems like there should be some if they rehab them, so I’m assuming they don’t. There is another bird rescue organization in the area that deals with raptors and larger birds and they sometimes feed starlings to their clients so I know not to take any there!

So I kept the surviving bird and named her Attila because of her rapacious appetite and we’ve been living happily together ever since. I adopted Pooky in 2011 at the age of three months old and with two starlings to compare to each other I realized Attila is female and Pooky is male. Living with two starlings is delightful in many ways – they are great talkers with a huge vocabulary of human words and phrases as well as environmental sounds and songs I’ve whistled to them mixed with crazy bird noises. They are very affectionate. Often when I’m working at my computer they are out of the cage and climbing on me and if they are in the right mood sleeping on my arm, snuggling against my neck, or in Pooky’s case sitting on my chest or in the crook of my elbow getting petted (Attila doesn’t like to be touched). They are easy to train and with their intelligence, curiosity and rather imperious attitude they are always surprising me and making me laugh with their antics. Starlings are not suitable for people who want a low-maintenance pet. It takes some adjustments in lifestyle to live with one – you can read about the requirements here – Is a Starling Right For You?

I woke up this past Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014 (coincidentally also Attila’s hatch day) not feeling very good because my mother died in 2010 and I had no mothers or grandmothers to go visit. Usually the first thing I do upon waking on a spring morning is open the patio door and look out over the back garden. I’d been watching the starlings nesting in the dryer vent with interest for a week now and enjoying the sounds of the babies calling out. Over the winter I had sent an email to the condo association office to remind them that it would be a good time to block that dryer vent before there was a nest in there again, but nothing was done so the starlings were back. It’s not that I object to the starlings – I love them obviously, and I also love that they eat lawn grubs, Japanese Beetles and tent caterpillars. But I don’t want my neighbor to have a fire in his dryer vent and I don’t want more baby birds to fall out. Well on this morning most of the sounds were coming from the ground, so I went over there to investigate, and sure enough, in the same spot where I found Attila five years ago, there were three adorable one week old baby starlings on the ground.

Normally the best thing to do is put them back in the nest, but I could not reach it – my stepladder is not tall enough. So I took them inside, made them a makeshift nest, fed them, and thought about what to do. Being foster mother to some baby birds on Mother’s Day was a great way to dispel the gloom of having no mother, but for how long? I knew that I now had the knowledge to raise them and take care of them, but could I handle having a total of five pet starlings? I know of people who have larger flocks of starlings than that in their house but they probably don’t live in condos with close neighbors who would not be thrilled with the noise. Attila is not very noisy but Pooky is quite loud at times and one Pooky is more than enough! Luckily neither bird is loud at night or early in the morning which is probably why my neighbors haven’t complained! Then there is the expense – it doesn’t cost much to feed them, but they get vet checkups once a year and for two birds it’s not that big of an expense but five? That’s several months electric bill! So that’s a no. Finding good homes for them would not be easy. It seemed like a better idea would be to try to build a nest box and get the parents to raise the babies in there.

So I looked online for starling nest box plans and called my Dad to see if he had enough wood on hand to build it. Dad is the handy type and has all the tools and usually sufficient supplies around for small projects like this. He said yes so I came over with the plans and he generously did most of the work. I could have done it but it probably would have taken me about four times as long and time was important in this case! I came home Sunday evening with a nice nest box. The next step was to call the condo association in the morning and get permission to place the box (they are very strict about what you can do on the outside of your unit) and to borrow a ladder to get the remaining starling baby out of the nest. It took about 24 hours to work through all the layers of bureaucracy but finally on Tuesday morning the head of maintenance and a helper came over and held the ladder while I climbed up to get the last baby out. It took the whole length of my arm plus a restaurant-style serving spoon but I barely managed to scoop it out. I put all four babies in the makeshift nest and put them in the box then tied the box to my stepladder and placed it near the dryer vent. The maintenance guy put a grid cover on the vent so they couldn’t get back in.

Now came some anxious waiting. By this time the babies had been with me 48 hours. They were already used to me feeding them – they would call out when I came near and their little heads would turn and look at me when I walked by – and accustomed to their new feeding schedule (once every 45 min on Sunday, once an hour on Monday). Believe it or not for the last two feedings on Monday evening they started making noise about a minute before my timer went off. Would they adjust back to being fed by the parents? And would the parents take them back? Several times the adult starlings approached the box with food without going in and I held my breath. Then finally success! After about three hours of steady feeding I declared the operation a success!

I’m writing this on Wednesday morning. I checked the babies first thing after waking up and they look fine and the parents are still frequently feeding them! They should be in the box for approximately another week and a half. Assuming no further disasters it will be a lot of fun to see them fledge! I don’t doubt that most people reading this probably think I’m out of my mind for spending this much effort on baby birds, and baby starlings at that. As far back as I can remember I’ve always been sympathetic to animals that other people don’t like especially if the disdain is for irrational reasons – insects, bats and snakes being prominent examples. Before starlings became my favorite bird, I was most fond of turkey vultures, considered ugly by some but beautiful to me. How much is a baby bird worth? Since I have intimate knowledge of what an adult starling is like, to me they are priceless!

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