Creation: A starling named Oliver

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It was my last semester of teaching before leaving the university and my tenured full professorship.

Summer had just begun. I was sitting outside my townhouse under a tall fir tree, grading final exam essays.

Suddenly, I heard the harsh “Ca Ca” call of an European starling. My instincts told me those were a mother’s distressed cries.

I ran to my back patio to investigate. Sure enough, a baby starling was on the ground, having fallen from his high nest in a hole under the eaves of the roof of the townhouse. He was only a week old and couldn’t yet walk, much less fly. His right leg had broken from the fall and hung limply by his side.

The next morning, I found a clump of blood in the improvised home I had made for him from a wire box. Miraculously, “Baby” had lived through the night.

Like all baby starlings, he had all black feathers, with a big yellow-lined beak.
Truth be told, he was so homely, only a mother could love him!

I hand fed Baby a gruel of Kaytee baby-bird powder formula mixed with the mango sherbet I had in the freezer. I would dip the end of a Q-tip into the gruel, pry open his beak and dab the glob of gruel into his mouth. He was a quick learner. After the first day, Baby opened wide his beak as soon as I pointed the Q-tip at him.

Three weeks passed. I was convinced I should set him free.

So I went onto my back porch and placed him on a low branch of a nearby tree. Baby just perched there but made no attempt to fly. When I stretched my hand out at him, he gaped, wanting to be fed.

I immediately scooped him into my hands, saying “You’re not ready to be on your own!”

Another week passed. I made a second effort to release him “into the wild.”

As I descended the stairs from my upstairs bedroom with Baby, I was sobbing as I whispered goodbye. My heart was broken. Tears streamed down my face, with each big drop falling on Baby cradled in my hands.

I went out the front door to the side of the townhouse beneath tall fir trees. I opened my cupped hands and Baby flew onto a nearby branch. Then he flew up and up into the tall tree until I couldn’t see him anymore.

At that moment, my phone rang. So I dashed into the townhouse to answer the phone. It was my husband. I told him about releasing Baby. He remonstrated me — that Baby would never survive “in the wild” because he’d been hand fed by me and wouldn’t know how to find food for himself.

In a panic, I dashed back out and craned to catch a sight of my starling. No sight of him.

“Baby! Baby! Baby!,” I cried.

Down flew my little starling!

That was it. Baby is coming home. We will never be separated again. Ever.

Baby continued to be hand fed — for a total of three months!

Renamed “Oliver,” my starling is a joy. A talented mimic, he sings like a canary, finch, and lovebird — who are his companions in neighboring big “cages” (we prefer to call them bird townhouses).

Did you know that starlings love to bathe? I didn’t either.

Oliver loves to take baths in the large bowl I fill with fresh water every morning. When I first discovered he likes taking baths, I refilled the bowl again and again. He took a total of SEVEN baths that day!

Here’s another picture I took of Oliver, perched on my left hand. Look at the iridescent colors and spots on his feathers! We’re in my bathroom. Behind him is a mosaic tile I’d made of the Russian Orthodox warrior saint, Demetrius.

Remember that broken right leg?

It healed itself after two months. There’s not a thing wrong with the leg or with any other part of Oliver.

I call him “my miracle birdie.” 😀

Update (Oct. 31, 2018):

Oliver Baby is now more than 12 years old!


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23 responses to “Creation: A starling named Oliver

  1. What a story… heart warming…

    The battle to free Rome’s skies of starlings
    By Peter Popham in Rome
    Monday, 24 November 2008
    It is one of the city’s most striking sights: the thousands of starlings that gather on winter evenings above Rome’s Termini station and other parts of the city centre, creating vast kinetic sculptures in the air – demonstrations of formation-flying that make the Red Arrows look like amateurs.
    The downside is what descends to earth: tonnes of droppings that coat cobblestones, cars and the clothing of anyone imprudent enough to stand and gaze. They drive pedestrians from the pavements, empty piazzas and can even cause accidents when the mess accumulates on the highway. The consensus in Rome, the birds’ favourite Italian city, is that they are a cursed nuisance.
    That view is one shared by airport authorities: earlier this month Rome’s Ciampino airport narrowly avoided a catastrophe when a huge flock of starlings collided head on with a Ryanair Boeing 737 as it made its descent towards the airport in the city’s south-east. The birds were sucked into the engine en masse and the pilot had to make an emergency landing off the runway, during which landing gear was damaged and passengers injured. The airport was closed for days.
    For more than a decade, the Roman authorities have been trying to drive the huge clouds of birds away from the city. Now they have hit on a winning formula, spearheaded by Giovanni Albarella. When Mr Albarella’s office in the Roman branch of the Italian League for the Protection of Birds (Lipu) receives notice of another massed arrival of starlings – “uno stormo di storni” in Italian – he goes to investigate, following the trail of droppings to the trees the birds have chosen for their lodging. Once satisfied that he has made a positive identification, he returns with his team, swathed in protective clothing and face masks.
    Each member is equipped with a megaphone featuring recordings of starling distress calls – Mr Albarella calls the noise “a heart-rending scream”. As the starlings end their twilight display of aerobatics and head for the trees, his team lets rip.
    The reaction is immediate: the birds rebound from the trees as if touched with a vast cattle prod and fly off into the evening sky to seek emergency accommodation elsewhere. By harrying the starlings in this way, varying the calls relayed by the megaphones to keep them on their toes – “the calls sound just the same to us but not to them” – Mr Albarella believes the birds are gradually being shunted back into the countryside which used to be their natural home.
    Starlings are as adaptable as they are gregarious and have come to regard our home as theirs: cities are warm, bright and safe for roosting, the flocks in their treetop dormitories are protected from owls and other predators and in the morning, having exchanged tips about good sources of food, they go their separate ways, out to the countryside.
    The technique that Mr Albarella has been employing in Rome for two winters has produced extraordinary results, he says. The numbers of starlings migrating to the city every October is shrinking, he told The Independent.
    “One reason is because some of the areas where they nest in the summer, mostly in Russia and Poland, are under threat. But our work in Rome certainly seems to be having an effect.”
    Efforts elsewhere to banish the starling nuisance have been cruel and useless, he maintains. In Belgium, they have tried blowing up the trees where they roost. Others have used fireworks and devices for producing loud bangs, or sent in mock-ups of owls and other birds that prey on the starlings; the trees where they roost have been doused in poisonous chemicals and detergent. “But none of these methods,” Mr Albarella claims, “have achieved their objective.”
    Mr Albarella became interested in birds as a child, when he found a blackcap injured in a park. He phoned Lipu to ask its advice. It was too late to rescue the bird, but a lifelong passion was born, which took him through an animal husbandry course at college and to the hot seat in Lipu’s Rome office, where he has an annual budget of €150,000 (£127,000) to deal with the starling problem.
    Romans are ostentatious animal-lovers but there are limits to what they will put up with. The dog population, like that of starlings, probably rivals the human one, yet many are left behind when their owners go on holidays, to be looked after desultorily by neighbours or cleaners. The sound of Rome in the summer is the baying of lonely dogs.
    Covens of stray cats attract tribes of (mostly female) supporters, who regularly take them food and drink and leave it in the piazzas, ancient Roman ruins or station concourses where they congregate. Yet no one would dream of adopting such a cat. And there is no love lost between Romans and starlings.
    “People from other parts of Europe are puzzled as to why we take such a lot of trouble to try and get rid of the starlings,” Mr Albarella said. “They say, why can’t you just let them be? I explain that some people in Rome demand that we ‘kill them all’, on account of the mess they create. But that is both impossible and unacceptable. Instead we are trying to find the most humane and efficient way to deal with the problem.”

  3. Thanks for sharing about Oliver, Dr. Eowyn.

  4. Beautiful story!!!!

  5. It’s a great story. I haven’t seen a starling in a long time.

  6. I love this story. As kids, my brother and sister and I found baby birds and always tried to save them. They had always died by morning. Now when I find one dead in my yard, I always say ,”There’s another one for Heaven Lord”

  7. Also Dr. E., What a nice story after all the bad news this week.

  8. It’s always nice to know another animal lover. Reminds me of my “pet” pigeon I befriended when I was a kid (Walter). He took up residence on our roof, so my parents were unhappy with the results…they made me pack him up in the car and we drove him 20 miles out into the country to let him go. When we got back home he had beaten us back there.

  9. Lovely story; you have a good heart. Please be careful about handling wild animals and with whom you share your stories. “Possessing, selling or displaying” any wild animals is now illegal in most states. This includes any type of rescuing other than turning injured animals over to licenced rehab facilities. You never know what “civic-minded citizen” might call the game commission.

  10. Pretty bird!

  11. Great story, Eowyn.
    And I have a six yo Schnoodle named Oliver. 🙂

  12. Thank you Dr. Eowyn for sharing this beautiful story of your love for the smallest of God’s creatures, and therefore, your great love for God! If it wasn’t for you, Oliver would not be with us! You are so very kind and dear! You have saved and helped many of God’s beautiful birds. I, too, love birds and have tried to help them as God sent them into my life. Birds are so beautiful!
    Bob, take a hike! I have asked God to help me with being patient, but when people do not get the point, I cannot be patient! They infuriate me!

  13. I just loved reading about your rescued bird.

  14. I came across your story while googling info about my own pet starling. It sounds like you and I have been through a similar ordeal. I rescued my Starling from the middle of a highway and had every intention of releasing him when he could fly and eat on his own. I took him outside one saturday morning to release him and I just kept remembering the warnings of other bird rescuers who said “a starling who has been hand-raised alone by a person will NOT survive in the wild”. It was true that my Cosmo was imprinted on me because he showed no interest in wild birds and only wanted to hang out on my head and go back to his cage for baths. He now has a big bird cage in my house and is a permanent pet. I feel like that was definitely the right decision. It is also perfectly legal to have a starling as a pet because they are an invasive specie to North America and are not protected under the federal Migratory Bird laws. There are also no state laws against it in any state that I know of.

  15. By the way… there is a yahoo group for people who own pet starlings. Here is the link if you have any interest in joining. The people in the group are very knowledgable about all things starling.

    • Thank you, Angela! I’m so happy for you and Cosmo that you never released him. My Oliver would perch on my head all day if I let him. LOL 😀

  16. Wonderful story-and it’s true!

  17. Pingback: Woman rescues and befriends baby robin - Fellowship Of The Minds

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