Friday, September 26, 2008

Starlings Are Smarter Than the Average Bird

Star on my shoulder

Starlings are extremely smart birds. They know when they’ve got a good thing. Like the rest of us they are greedy and always wanting more.
A friend told us about a baby starling she found abandoned in a barrel near her garage. It was so irresistible we decided to try raising the little egghead. We took the little orphan home and put her in a small cage in our atrium just off the kitchen and discovered that even at this fragile age she was a ferocious eater.
She loved blueberries and roast beef. We called her "Star Ling" and when she had all her feathers we gave her full use of the atrium and soon she was looking for room to roam.
I was getting real used to having a regular supply of roast beef in the house, but Gaila said we had to release the bird outside. I tried to convince her that I wanted to teach Star to talk but she knew I was only interested in the roast beef supply. As it turned out we both got our way. After we released Star she stayed close to home. On our way to the mailbox she would swoop down from the tree tops and land on our head or shoulder and look at us as if to say, "Hey, how about some roast beef."
One day Gaila went to get her hair cut and the hairdresser said, "Looks like you’ve been painting, Gaila, you’ve got paint in your hair." Gaila was too embarrassed to tell him that it was recycled roast beef.
Another time Gaila was talking to Star who was perched on her shoulder and the bird poked her in the eye. It started to get infected so she went to see our optometrist. A couple weeks later I went for my yearly exam and had to explain to him why I had a ugly bruise on my forehead. Maggie and I had been swimming in Lake Michigan and in jest I told her I was going to sneak up on some ducks swimming nearby. I swam underwater for about fifty feet before I collided with a cement block that held a water pump on the bottom of the lake. The doctor already knew we were a couple of birdbrains but this proved it.
Star loved to travel. We would take her on weekend camping trips. We could release her knowing she would always come back for roast beef or blueberries. We usually knew where she was—we could hear other campers screaming when she landed on them. On occasion Gaila would have to go fetch her. One day a couple Star met was amazed by her and had been planning to take her home. Gaila was calling for her and as soon as she heard her name she flew over and landed on Gaila’s head.
Star loved meeting new friends. We live on a dirt road that curves 90 degrees at the bottom of our driveway. Vehicles always slow down to make the curve and Star found that to be an excellent way to meet new friends. One day she landed on the hood of a car. The driver was a baker heading for work and dressed in bakery whites. When he stopped the car to check out this bird who had now flown to his side mirror, Star perched right on his shoulder taking her regular morning blueberry dump.
Star went all the way to town that day. Her reputation followed her. The guy stopped at a local business and asked if they had a camera so he could get a picture with this overly friendly bird. A woman in the office exclaimed, "That’s Maggie Mallery’s bird!" Coincidentally this woman happened to be our neighbor and she brought Star home that afternoon tightly taped in a cardboard box. When we opened the box Star hopped up on my shoulder and looked at me as if to say, "Hey, how about some roast beef."
Towards the end of summer Star began to feel the tug of wanderlust. She was reported further and further down the road. Soon the tug of adventure over-powered the urge for roast beef and blueberries and Star was gone. She may have made friends with the wrong people but we like to think she merged into a flock of her peers. She would tell them where she had been and all the things she had done and they wouldn’t believe a word of it. When you do things others have a hard time believing, then you are most likely living life the way it was supposed to be lived.
Every time we see a massive flock of swirling starlings we look for Star—and every time we find her wonderful memories. - Dick E. Bird

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