Darling Starlings

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European Starling

European Starling (adult transitional) © Kevin Carver, December 2005

This month, many headlines have been made of mysterious mass animal die-offs around the world. There is now an explanation for one such case: the USDA killed them. According to MSNBC:

USDA wildlife biologist Ricky Woods explained that a large group of starlings was causing problems in a north Nebraska cattle feedlot, eating the feed and leaving waste on both the feed and equipment. So the USDA put out DRC 1339 poison for the birds, Woods said.

“Lethal means are always a last resort,” said Woods. “In this situation it’s what we had to do.”

The article goes on to say:

Authorities said that so far starlings were the only birds found dead in Yankton. They said the poisoned birds didn’t pose a threat to other animals or humans. Officials estimated nearly 2,000 birds ate the poison.

Why do I doubt that this, “the poisoned birds didn’t pose a threat to other animals or humans,” could possibly be true?

Arnie the Darling Starling

My views on starlings were forever changed by reading a book published in 1983 (and now seemingly out-of-print) called Arnie, the Darling Starling. I found it during the days when I haunted used bookstores, eagerly collecting and devouring every book on animal behavior, cognition, and biology—and of course—animal memoirs. Today, I get most of my books from the library, but I’ve kept my extensive collection from the old days. In this memoir, Margaret Sigl Corbo takes in an orphaned bird, who she then proceeds to raise. The bird turns out to be a very charismatic starling who learns to speak English.

At one point in my life, I had become an avid birder. Birding teaches observation, and the identification of all bird species, but it tends to scorn the “invasive” species. However, after reading Arnie the Darling Starling, I started to look at starlings differently. I mean, I really started to look at them and watch their behavior. I came to the conclusion that the starlings of the world cannot help that they’re starlings. They are unique and special birds whether or not they are supposed to be here. Yes, they’re noisy and bossy, and they spill the birdseed everywhere and consume large quantities of it, but they’re also very gregarious, social, and beautiful; the males having iridescent spotted plumage that shines and dances in the light and changes dramatically throughout the year.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes starlings as:

First brought to North America by Shakespeare enthusiasts in the nineteenth century, European Starlings are now among the continent’s most numerous songbirds. They are stocky black birds with short tails, triangular wings, and long, pointed bills. Though they’re sometimes resented for their abundance and aggressiveness, they’re still dazzling birds when you get a good look. Covered in white spots during winter, they turn dark and glossy in summer. For much of the year, they wheel through the sky and mob lawns in big, noisy flocks.

If only we would take the time to really see and learn about all the species that we share our world with, we would be less willing to put up with mass exterminations of any sort, whether through factory farming for food animals, or the culling of birds that are a “nuisance” to the same industry.

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2 responses

  1. Great post. I’d recommend to you a book recently given to me (but maybe you know it alread): Chris Chester’s Providence of a Sparrow. Also out of print. I’ve never had a starling, but I did have a robin, a sparrow, and a mourning dove…. You say you like animal memoirs. Is it too immodest of me to tell you that I’m writing a book about one of my dogs at braon.wordpress.com?