We have a starling nest in our eaves. Now, when I mentioned this to my friend Evelyn (not her real name) who is a gentle, sweet, live and let live sort of person, she said: Starlings!? You have to get rid of them. Kill ‘em. Poisen ‘em. Whatever it takes.
But Evelyn, aren’t you a peaceful lover of all things?
Yeah, but not starlings. They’re pests!, she said, vehemently.
So I did a little research and found out that indeed, many consider starlings good for nothing. They were imported from Europe so they have no natural enemies here, which is why there are so many of them. Farmers hate them, they poo rather messily, and, in many states, they are euthanized rather matter-of-factly.
But I also found out that they are great mimickers and can even be taught to talk, just like parrots! In fact, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a pet starling that learned to sing one of his concertos (!) and he loved the bird so much, that when it died, it is reported he had a funeral service and wrote this sweet poem:
A little fool lies here
Whom I held dear—
A starling in the prime
Of his brief time
Whose doom it was to drain
Death’s bitter pain.
Thinking of this, my heart
Is riven apart.
Shed a tear,
You also, here.
He was not naughty, quite,
But gay and bright,
And under all his brag
A foolish wag.
This no one can gainsay
And I will lay
That he is now on high,
And from the sky,
Praises me without pay
In his friendly way.
Yet unaware that death
Has choked his breath,
And thoughtless of the one
Whose rime is thus well done.
The point here is, Bob and I decided not to kill the starling family, which had roosted in our eaves.
And yesterday, one of the nestlings must have fallen out and as I was finishing a picnic lunch out by our new pond with a trickling waterfall, I heard a bird screeching!
It was the mama bird and she was swooping and dive-bombing our dog Payton who was VERY interested in something pattering about in the grass.
Bird down, bird down! Bob called out. I got Payton inside and went to survey the situation. The little baby bird seemed all right but couldn’t fly. He was kind of freaked out, it seemed, and his mom was in a terrible state, squawking and screeching.
Animal in distress, animal in distress!, Bob said and he told me to call the Idaho Humane Society. But when I called them, they said to call the Ruth Melichar Bird Center (4650 N. 36th Way, 338-0897). It’s run April through August by the Animals in Distress Association (AIDA) that rescues, rehabilitates
and releases injured, displaced and orphaned wildlife.
I called and told them about Iggy (I named the little guy, he was so cute), and they said, sure, we’ll take him — bring him on in.
Well, I had hoped they would send someone out to pick him up, but it’s an all-volunteer organization and besides, it turned out to be a piece of cake: As instructed, I got a shoebox, punched some breathing holes in the top, and gently scooped the little guy up — yes, with my bare hands. Turns out, most birds, including starlings, are NOT disease-ridden Petri dishes (except for Morning Doves, so watch out for them!). In fact, you could get worse from your cat!
Oh, and another wive’s tale: the momma bird will NOT reject the baby if you touch it. If it falls out of the nest and there’s nothing wrong with the bird, go ahead and gently put it back in there.
So — I drove Iggy out to the Center, which is named, by the way, for Ruth Melichar, aka the Bird Lady of Boise (unfortunately, Ruth died earlier in the same year the Center opened its doors), and co-director Kellyn Little met me at the door. The Center is clean, clean, clean and teeming with birds, from cheeping baby starlings to chirping teenager English sparrows and cute little woodpeckers. All are on a strict feeding schedule, get shots if necessary, and hand-fed meal worms (yuck!) or whatever.
“We get in about 2,000 to 2,500 birds every year,” Kellyn said, from babies that fall out of the nest to injured birds from cat or dog attacks to orphaned birds left behind — perhaps after their momma quail-bird gets in an unfortunate accident with a lawnmower.
“Of course, we’d rather the mom take care of the baby bird, but if it’s injured or dehydrated or not getting enough to eat, we’ll take it in, feed it, nurse it back to health and, when it’s ready, release it,” Kellyn said.
There are also ducks, geese, a couple of chickens — and, the day I was there, a raven!
Outside, there are cages especially built for the birds, complete with swimming pools, food on demand and daily grooming accommodations.
It’s like a spa for birds!, I said.
“It’s like the Hilton for birds,” Kellyn laughed.
In addition to the wild ducks that will be eventually released in Montour Wildlife Recreation Management Area, there are a few geese and ducks that are domestic and need to be adopted, preferably to folks with a pond.
They were probably cute little Easter presents, but then, “when they started growing up and getting messy, the parents don’t ant them anymore.” Kellyn calls the fluffy white ducks “Affleck ducks” after the commercial, not Ben (they’re really known as Peking ducks) and as you can see, they’re pretty adorable. Just call the Center if you’re interested!
(My Aunt Ruth had a Donald duck just like this and his name was Herman. I remember spending hours, it seems, spraying him with the hose in my Aunt and Uncle’s back yard, and, yes, they had a little swimming pool for Herman, too. He loved to spread his wings and puff out his little duck chest and get sprayed. He also loved my Aunt Ruth’s cocker spaniel, John Henry. I mean, he LOVED loved him. Herman would chase John Henry around the yard, wings out, quacking like crazy and John Henry would run for his life! Ah, it was a sight to see, I tell you!)
Kellyn, who started working as a volunteer baby bird feeder at the Center five years ago, now shares director duties with her sister, Patricia Little. She said the economy has impacted the Center, which is totally funded by grants and donations, but every time they hit a wall, they find a way to continue.