STARLINGS IN THE FAMILY
Starlings in the Family
How to survive falling in love with a supremely intelligent, breathtakingly lovely, endlessly demanding and affectionate little bird ... while rearranging your entire life to keep him safe, healthy and happy.
A pet starling captures the human heart like no other creature can, and can become a cherished participant in family life. What could be more important than finding accurate, well researched information on how to provide your darling starling a long and joyous life.
Lens of the Year - 2nd Place!!!
Thanks so much to everyone who voted and supported Peanut's lens.
It was fun and exciting to be competing in such talented company, and thrilling to be voted 2nd place overall. John Fenzel's awesome Cuban Missile Crisis lens earned top spot, and if you haven't read it...you should!
Help Support the Earth - ...and everything that's living here!
All royalties from this lens are assigned to help support life on this earth in some way, through either the proactive efforts of the Earthjustice organization, or the continuing work of the A.S.P.C.A. Every purchase made through any link in this lens will generate a donation to these two important causes.
Read about the latest and greatest successes of Earthjustice.
- ASPCA | Official Site for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
The ASPCA works to rescue animals from abuse, pass humane laws and share resources with shelters nationwide. Learn more about what we do, and join our fight today!
Chapter 1: In The Beginning
A tiny baby starling, bruised and dehydrated....
Would he live? It didn't seem likely. So tiny and helpless, bruised in a 30-ft fall and dehydrated from the hot sun, he was barely alive. Water with a little corn syrup added was placed one drop at a time on the corner of his beak. The drops were instinctively sucked in and swallowed, one every few minutes for hours and hours - the only sign that there was still a spark of life. Then a miracle happened - the teeny wobbly head lifted on the spindly little neck and the yellow clown lips gaped wide!! A few minuscule bites of cooked egg yolk were eagerly gobbled, then the little Peanut went still. Oh oh ... was there still life? A few hours later, in time with the sunrise, the clown lips gaped wide again and the tiniest sound emerged. More food disappeared down the mini-maw, kicking off a 15-min FEED-ME cycle that continued throughout the day, and the next...and the next... My mind was fixated only on preserving this tiny life, and I was innocently unaware that my own life was about to change drastically, and unquestionably for the better. Stay tuned for Chapter 2...
Emergency Care - Found a baby bird?
If you've found a baby bird on the ground, and it appears injured, dehydrated or otherwise distressed, please click on the following link for instructions on how to proceed.
- Emergency Care Instructions
If the baby bird is not distressed, it's best to put it back in the nest. If this is not possible, then follow the emergency care instructions.
Chapter 2: Three Weeks Old!
Mommy, Can I, Can I, Can I......?
Little Peanut grew so fast that I could SEE the difference in him every morning. Spiky feather sheaths seemed to grow as I watched, while the bruised and bulbous pink/yellow belly receded. Over the first 3 weeks he had to go everywhere with me in a jury-rigged carry-all, and it was a busy time with a funeral plus a wake, an all-day Canada Day carnival, grocery shopping, family visits, appointments, and a long distance drive to a memorial service and another wake.
The small feedings every 15 minutes gradually changed to larger feedings every 1/2 hour, then to total pig-outs every hour! His soft peeping turned to lusty squawking, and by 14 days he was climbing around exploring, and his sleeping box had to be put inside a small cage to keep him safe when he first woke up.
Most of Peanut's waking hours were spent nestled in my left hand, and for the better part of three weeks my life was lived one-handed. He was curious about every single thing around him, but would squawk and make a beeline for me if I made the slightest move away from him. His legs and feet seemed very weak, and his toes wouldn't grip. I gently massaged them and did little exercises with his toes each day, while he lay on his back in my hand. We practiced and practiced with little toesies wrapped around my baby finger, and when he was 19 days old, he perched shakily without support for the first time. He seemed so proud of himself!!!
On day 21, without warning or fanfare, he took his first short flight. He spread his little wings, launched himself off my hand, and did a face plant on the couch about 4 feet away. Two days later he was flying like a pro!
Diet Considerations for Baby Starlings - Essential for proper growth and long-term health!
In the nest, baby starlings are fed exclusively on a large variety of soft-bodied insects. We can't hope to duplicate this diet, but research over many years has allowed us to come close to the right nutritional balance. The diet that has the best track record of raising healthy babies may be accessed here:
- Correct Diet for Baby Starlings, and Other Good Baby Care Info
Starlings have very different requirements from parrots, and correct diet is critically important. Without sufficient animal protein, starlings will gradually develop severe nutritional deficiencies and diet-related problems that are very hard to rev
Chapter 3: Hey, Mom!! Look At ME!!
The miracle of flight, and the wonder of water!!
Peanut's initial clumsiness in the air was short-lived, and very quickly his flight became strong and sure. His world gained a whole new dimension ... UP!! His aerobatics were remarkable, not to mention gleeful. His favourite game was to flutter-hop to the top of my head, then launch himself straight up to pick a tiny spider off the ceiling, then drop straight back down to the top of my head to beat and batter his prize to a pulp in my hair. Then he'd soar a victory lap around the room, and slam into my neck where he'd proudly chatter and preen himself.
Suddenly I found myself caught out. The tiny cage that he slept in was ridiculously inadequate for a bouncy energetic young bird. I had obtained materials for a flight cage, but since I was operating under the foolish assumption that his physical development was delayed, I hadn't yet assembled it. So while Peanut slept in his cramped quarters, I spent a night building his new room. By morning I was exhausted and aching in every joint, but the structure was finished and several cleaned branches from my old magnolia tree were installed as perches. I quietly placed his tiny cage inside the new flight, opened its door, and stood back to watch his reaction. He climbed out, froze for a few moments, then set to exploring every square inch of his new digs. He paused now and then to accept a bite of breakfast, and happily poked and pried at every corner for hours.
I ransacked my cupboards, and chose a large shallow enamelled roasting pan with a rounded lip to serve as a bath/swimming pool. I put about an inch of water in it, and placed it in his cage on a towel. He hopped onto the rounded edge, leaned down, and took his first drink of water on his own...then turned away with no further interest. Hmmm - it seemed a demonstration was in order, so my hand went for a swim. I placed my palm flat on the bottom, and wiggled my fingers to splash the water. Peanut raced over to jump on the back of my hand, pecking and dancing and squealing with glee....and quickly decided the splashing water was rather neat. I let my hand go still, he stepped down onto the bottom, gripped my finger with his toes and tentatively stuck his head in the water. He shook it, liked it, and within seconds was shaking and splashing non-stop, and the starling geyser exploded all around and soaked everything in a 5-foot radius. Then he flew to my shoulder...which would forever remain his favorite drying spot...and shook and preened himself dry.
Fun Time in the Bath - ... several times a day!!
Double-click the arrow to watch the fun. __________________________________________________
Chapter 4: Keeping a Flying Toddler Safe - Part 1
....and matching wits with a bird-brain.
Once Peanut was flying and exploring his world, I quickly discovered that a young starling is as curious as a human toddler, and 100 times faster!
Ceiling fans were suddenly a deadly threat, and were turned off forever. Room doors were now a lethal hazard, and were permanently braced open.
Anything larger than Peanut was a playground to be thoroughly explored, poked and prodded, especially anything bearing holes or slots. Computer keyboards became toe-traps, cushions became a source of loose strings and threads and little puffs of stuffing. Phones and electrical appliances offered tempting slots that could be probed with a curious beak, or trap little toes.
Anything smaller than Peanut had to be grabbed, shaken, killed and swallowed if possible, including such offending items as paperclips, coins, cigarette butts, screws, earrings, buttons, elastic bands.....you get the picture? But it's frightening how the mind blocks out the sight of "normal" little things that can result in a panicked trip to the nearest avian vet.
Every day, before Peanut came out of his cage, I combed the house searching for potential threats, and vacuumed the carpets to catch any unseen swallow-able hazards. And yet almost every day I found myself galloping around after him yelling "Peanut drop it drop it drop it!!" while he gleefully swooped just out of my reach, carrying some little "no-no" that I had overlooked.
I thought I was clever when I began keeping a small jar of raisins handy. Any time Peanut found and grabbed some small overlooked object, I would rattle the raisin jar, remove its lid, and call "who wants a treat?". Peanut LOVES raisins, so he would scoot to my shoulder, and drop the stolen object in favour of a treat. Little did I know that he would turn the tables on me! It wasn't long before he began searching for (and always finding) something to grab and fly off with that would induce me to reach for the raisin jar. I didn't twig until I realized he was dropping things in my lap before I even had the lid off the jar. And this before he was even 6 months old!
Never try to match wits with a starling, they'll out-think you every time...you'll find new meaning in the term "Bird Brain".
Pet Bird Safety Tips - Common sense?? ...and MORE!!
Making a home safe for a pet bird is essential, but not as easy as you might think. Please click on the following links for several important bird safety tips - some are common sense, but there are many that might not occur to you until it's too late. "Better safe than sorry" is always the watch-phrase with pet starlings!
- Common Household Dangers
A large well-appointed flight cage can and should be a pet starling's personal space that he/she enjoys being in, and feels safe and secure in. However, he needs daily free-flying time out of his cage to exercise his wings and interact with his human
- Home Safety For Pet Starlings
A pet starling is clever, curious, energetic and mischievous, and it only makes sense to supervise his fun as closely as you would a human toddler. These are a few common-sense precautions to take when pet starlings are out of their cages.
Chapter 5: Keeping a Flying Toddler Safe - Part 2
DEADLY DOMESTIC PREDATORS!!!
CATS!!! You gotta love 'em, and I do. I have seven - yes, SEVEN cats. They're all rescues, and sweet, cuddly, loving critters who jockey for position on my spare pillow at night, fight for a turn on my lap, accompany me en masse to the john, and roll on their backs in ecstasy when brushed. They all became instant killing machines at first sight of a little fluttery Peanut trying his wings. CATS AND BIRDS DON'T MIX - Mother Nature has decreed it, mere humans cannot revoke it!
What to do? What do mother birds do? I decided to emulate a mother bird, and used the simple expedient of screaming a warning every time a cat appeared. "CAT!!!" I would scream! Other than sending visitors into peals of laughter, this accomplished two things: Peanut would bolt to my shoulder instantly, and the cat would vanish from the room! To speed up the cats' learning curve, I made judicious use of a spray bottle full of water aimed at disappearing tails.
Two factors were essential in making this scheme work. First, whenever Peanut was out of his cage, my eyes were simply never off him. This was made easier by the fact that his favourite playground was invariably my person. Second, the floor was strictly off limits, and through daily vacuuming I made sure there were no tempting bits or bobs lying on the carpet to attract his curious self. It wasn't long before all the cats learned to make themselves scarce whenever Peanut came out of his cage. Additionally, Peanut developed a healthy awareness of the cats, and will fly to his highest perch and scold them if they're so bold as to walk past his flight cage.
It works for us, but only because of constant watchfulness, and total supervision. In different circumstances, I would strive to lock all cats out of the room in which a bird was free flying, however this is not possible due to the layout of my house.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Cats, dogs, and other mammals have pasteurella multocida bacteria in their saliva. It's harmless to them, but WILL KILL a bird in a fairly short time if it gets into their blood stream. It is critical for any bird who has been in the mouth of a cat or other mammal to get antibiotics within 12-24 hours, to have a chance of survival. Small puncture wounds from teeth or claws can close over and be virtually invisible, so even the lack of obvious injury must not preclude immediate treatment.
Author's note: The cat in the picture is NOT as close as he appears, and bolted with a wet bum a few seconds later.
European Starling Personalized Return Address Labels - ....let a little birdie take your mail......
All royalties will go to Earthjustice and the A.S.P.C.A.
The Law According To Peanut
If I like it, it's mine.
If I already have it, it's mine.
If I can take it from you, it's mine.
If I had it a little while ago, it's mine.
If it's mine, it must never appear to be yours.
If it looks like mine, it's mine.
If I saw it first, it's mine.
If you have something and you put it down, it's mine.
If I don't want it anymore, it's yours.
If it can be eaten, it's mine.
If you are eating it, it's mine.
If it tastes good, it's mine ALL mine.
If it doesn't taste good, it's yours.
Chapter 6: Cagebuilding 101
...how NOT to do it.
With all the little day-to-day hazards in a home, not to mention 7 cats of varying ages and energy levels, Peanut could not be allowed free reign of the house except during the times I could give him my undivided attention. Come to think of it, that was identical to the situation when my kids were babies. *grin*
A cage was essential, but it had to be large enough for him to fly around and play in when he had to be in his "room". My spare desktop was cleared off, and gave me a 3' wide by 28" deep space, and I figured a 4' height would be manageable for cleaning, etc. I wished it could be larger, but space and funds were limited. I innocently drew up plans, bought a quantity of 2X1 lumber and 1/2" wire mesh hardware cloth, a couple of boxes of wood screws, some brass door hardware, small steel angles, and a staple gun. I already owned a saw, a drill, and a cupboard full of hand tools. I was all set!!
With naive confidence I turned my livingroom into an ersatz workshop, and spent the next 12 hours through the night losing my christianity along with several inches of skin and a quart or two of blood. Don't let anybody tell you that a 3' x 30' roll of wire mesh is an inanimate object! It has a life of its own, and IT IS EVIL! It's satanically clever and totally unpredictable. Just when you think you've safely braced loose edges, and confidently ply the wire snips, its nether section will literally spring at you like an unseen jackal and leave a row of punctures down the back of your leg. As you bounce around screaming and holding your leg, it will snicker and slip a small section of itself under your dancing feet. While you're lying on the floor in a fetal position whimpering and holding your bloody feet, it quietly re-rolls itself and lies in wait for the next opportunity to attack. *Watch for Steven King's next book "Satan's Mesh".*
As daylight arrived, I was hurting and hobbling, feet and hands wrapped in blood-soaked gauze, but I was done, and Peanut's funhouse was ready. I covered the bottom with vinyl shelf liner, then several thicknesses of newspaper. Branches from my magnolia tree, well cleaned, made perfect perches to help exercise little feet. Leafy silk vines provided peek-a-boo places, along with a basket of rough stones and jingly whiffle balls. A bouquet of newspaper strips was hung for fun, and Peanut was turned loose inside to spend hours exploring happily.
It remains his favourite place to be, second only to being on me.
Cage Building Tips - ... for safety and convenience.
In a perfect world, pet birds could fly free in our homes all the time. But safety factors dictate otherwise, so a cage for a pet bird is as necessary as a playpen for a baby. A cage should NEVER be a prison, but a safe and happy place your bird considers his own where he can eat, play, rest or sleep as he feels inclined. Here are a few things to keep in mind when building, or even buying, a cage for your pet starling or any other bird.
- Size - It should be as large as space and funds permit. At the very least it must allow the bird to fly between perches.
- Bar Spacing - The bar or mesh spacing must be small enough to prevent the bird getting his head stuck. For starlings, this should be no more than 1/2"-5/8". This spacing applies also to gaps around doors, trays or feeders.
- Wood - Starlings do not chew like parrots do, so a wood frame is fine. However, some freshly milled woods may still be giving off aromatics which can be dangerous to a bird's sensitive respiratory system. Check lumber carefully before buying it to make sure there are no weeping spots, or strong smells.
- Wire Mesh - Most wire mesh is galvanized. Again, starlings are not chewers, so this is less of a problem than it would be with parrots. However, galvanized wire can flake off bits of zinc which can be pecked up and swallowed by a curious starling, possibly leading to zinc toxicity and associated health problems. Galvanized wire mesh should be scrubbed and washed down regularly to avoid a buildup that can flake off.
- Staples - The easiest way to attach wire mesh to a wood frame is with a staple gun, and if done properly it is strong and secure. Keep in mind that starlings' beaks are designed for probing and prying. ALL staple fasteners should be on the OUTSIDE of the wood frame.
- Wood Coating - For convenient cleanup of food or poop, the wood frame can be coated with urethane or similar material - remember, starlings do not chew. However, it's very important that any such coating be thoroughly dried/cured and NO LONGER GIVING OFF ANY ODOR before the bird is allowed into the cage.
- Door Size - The main door of the cage should be large enough that you can get inside the cage yourself - even just your upper body. This will ensure your continuing sanity when cleaning the cage or replacing hanging toys.
- Door Style - The guillotine style doors that are standard on most purchased cages can be a nuisance at best, and a hazard at worst. A clever starling can pry up this type of door and leave the cage when you're not there, exposing him to the household dangers that the cage is meant to protect him from. It's essential that a guillotine door be securely fastened with a clip - even something like a clothespin can work. Wire twist ties are never a good idea, as a starling can break off and swallow them. A draw-bridge style door is safer, but inconvenient for you. Consider a side-hinged door - safe, and also convenient.
- Substrate - The best substrate for the cage bottom is a few sheets of ordinary newspaper. It's cheap, readily available and tends to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Best of all it allows you to monitor your bird's droppings daily, which is VERY important as it can allow you to spot a health problem before any symptoms are evident in the bird.
- Perches - Commercial cages generally come with hard dowel perches. THROW THEM OUT! They are bad for a bird's feet. PERIOD! If you're in doubt, just climb up and down a round-runged ladder in your bare feet. Natural branches, preferably with some bark still attached, well cleaned, make the best and most natural perches. The variation in diameter helps keep a bird's feet and toes properly exercised, and the roughness can even help keep toenails worn down.
- Perches cont'd - NEVER use sandpaper sleeves on perches - they are very hard on a bird's feet, and can cause foot problems with continued use. Concrete pedicure perches, especially contoured ones, can be very helpful in keeping starling toenails worn down, and do not cause foot problems when provided in conjunction with natural branch perches.
- More Perches - Tightly-braided soft cotton rope can provide a safe and fun swing-type perch for starlings. It's necessary to check them regularly to make certain there are no loose threads or frayed areas that the bird could catch a toenail in and wrench a toe or leg. Rough rope like jute or sisal is not recommended, as it has stiff spiky fibres that can be hard on the feet, or worse - pulled off and swallowed.
Safe & Unsafe Woods & Plants - ...for building, or decorating, the cage.
Check the following links to find out which woods are safe for cage frames and perches, and which plants are safe for birds to play with. These lists are generally compiled with parrots in mind, but they're equally useful for starlings and other softbill birds.
- BirdsNWays Safe Plants & Trees
BirdsnWays compilation of safe plants & trees for pet birds. Indoor & outdoor plants, bushes & trees safe for birds.
- Parrot Chronicles Safe & Unsafe Plants
The Parrot Chronicles e-zine lists of plants that are safe and unsafe for pet birds.
- Safe Wood for Perches
Gillian Willis' list of safe woods to use for perches.
- Safe Plants for Birds
HotSpot for Birds' comprehensive chart of safe plants is must-reading for those of you who are considering adding a bird to your family.
The Starling Shop - Merchandise for Starling Lovers
Visit the Starling Shop to browse through our unique and attractive merchandise designed especially for starling lovers. All royalties from any purchases through this lens will go to Earthjustice and the A.S.P.C.A.
- The Starling Shop
We offer a large selection of quality shirts for adults, children and even pets, hats, bags, stationery, mugs and household items, all illustrated with stunning photos of young pet starlings being typically cute, clever, or comical. Choose a favourit
Must-read books for starling lovers.
The true story of the author's life with the starling she rescued and raised, and who wouldn't leave. Their adventures together make for a terrific read.
The sequel to Arnie the Darling Starling.
Children's fiction. After having settled her eggs in a new nest, Mrs. Starling finds that she has grown too fat to get into the nest to feed her growing chicks.
The truth about animal ownership - and who really owns whom. A hilarious and heartwarming true account of the author's grudging acceptance of one animal after another into his home.
An absolutely wonderful book about life with a pet sparrow ... and then another ... and another.. Very well written - you'll be crying one minute, then laughing your head off the next.
More must-read books
A thoroughly delightful true story about the author's life with her beloved pet starling.
The remarkable biography of a little sparrow, from the cradle to the grave.
Children's fiction. The story of an unhappy little boy whose life is changed by a scruffy little starling.
A wonderful, humorous true account of one family's adventures in caring for a huge assortment of critters, both domestic and wild. Offers insights into animal care and behavior, including advice about caring for orphans.
Science and Nature Books Relating to Starlings and Other Bird-brains - ...for those who are obsessed...
315 page hardcover book with dust jacket, published in 1984 by Oxford University Press.This is a comprehensive, well researched, fully indexed educational text about the European Starling, and a veritable bible for those who are passionate about these amazing birds.
The definitive guide to all 114 members of the starling family. It offers extensive information about identification, ecology, and behavior, complemented by thirty-two color plates and distribution maps. The authors reexamine the classification of starlings in the light of up-to-date knowledge of the birds' ecology and behavior. They also review the birds' fascinating interactions with humans, explaining how starlings and mynas have been scorned as pests, used for food, valued as pets and as mimics, and even had religious significance in different parts of the world.
The landmark classic that shattered societal complacency, and touched off the environmental movement.
An easy-to-follow guide to communicating with your bird, and understanding what your bird is trying to communicate to you. Contains a chapter on starlings and other softbills.
Examines the lives and behaviors of the highly intelligent members of the crow family, corvids, and includes 61 dramatic images from the world's top nature photographers
Thanks for visiting! If you have a pet starling, know a pet starling, or just love watching these amazing birds, please let me know what you think of my lens. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them. If there's a particular topic you'd like covered in this lens, just ask! Check back often, as I'll be continuing to add chapters to the Peanut saga, and information about proper care of pet starlings, as time permits.
Please note: If you are not a fan of European Starlings, please don't post your negative propaganda here. We've heard it before, and it won't be allowed to remain in this guestbook.