Just Thinking: Spurned starlings need love (and suet)
I started feeding birds several years ago with one smallish seed feeder, which I purchased tentatively, the way beginning weightlifters buy their first singlet.
Since then, my husband and I have expanded our avian pantry to include three seed feeders and a pair of hanging suet boxes. I wouldn't say we have a bird sanctuary outside our kitchen window -- I would say it, except I know from talking to friends that what they have are bird sanctuaries, and what we have amounts to a bench outside the bus station -- but there's no doubt a certain bird population has gotten the word about the oak tree in our yard.
I don't mind refilling the feeders. That's why we have them. I don't even mind our failure to attract Carolina wrens and northern bobwhites and tiny yellow fluffs who sing Vivaldi. While we've seen some woodpeckers and the occasional goldfinch, most of our guests are starlings.
My husband has what amounts to hard-wired resentment of starlings, thanks to the trouble they cause on farms, and while the serious academic study I've undertaken in the past three minutes confirms his criticisms, I maintain that starlings need to eat, too.
In fact, thanks in large part to the general inimical tone of online starling discussions, I'm fast becoming a SP (Starling Protector), a FOP (Friend of Starlings) and a FOFSA (Founder of the Feed the Starlings Association). Just listen to what alleged bird lovers ask about starlings:
Are starlings mean to other birds? How do you get rid of starlings but not other birds? What poisons kill starlings? Can you eat starlings?
The answers to these questions are, in order, yes, withhold food and water, starlicide and yes. But people, your hostility!
I feel for starlings, who were brought here from Europe in 1890 and set loose in New York's Central Park by Eugene Schieffelin.
Schieffelin dreamed of bringing every bird mentioned by Shakespeare to the U.S. ("Henry IV," if you're wondering.) The birds didn't ask to emigrate; they were relocated. I'm guessing they thought they were to go forth into the park and multiply; that seems to be what all species consider their marching orders.
The original 100 birds now number about a billion, which is pretty good multiplying in anybody's book. But do starlings get credit for mathematical excellence? They do not.
"Starlings are aggressive!" an online page exclaims. As for "starlicide," could it be more pointed? It's as if someone named a poison "Margonicide." And I don't know why I'm surprised, given that the birds' Latin name is Sturnus vulgaris. I don't understand Latin, but I can figure that one out.
I'm reminded of my mother, who as a student was placed in a classroom music group called the Crows. She figured that out, too.
Finally, "Can you eat starlings?" I refuse to dignify that with more than one word: baked.
That's why I consider it only fair to list a few positive facts about starlings:
* Threatened starlings fly close together in enormous shape-shifting formations called murmurations. I've seen pictures, and they're this close to writing "Surrender, Dorothy" in the sky.
* Annoying though they may be, starlings are showy birds, glossy of feather and colorful.
* Starlings can learn to talk.
There. I hope starling haters are rethinking their dislike of a misunderstood bird that wants only what all birds want: enough to eat and a warm, dry shoulder to poop on.
Back to my original thoughts regarding bird feeding: As I said, starlings must eat. But about suet. An argument can be made -- I know this because my husband makes it -- that birds don't need suet in the summertime. That's as may be, but people don't need ice cream in the wintertime, either.
And birds -- no, starlings -- like suet. They like suet so much they gobble up two large cakes every 36 hours. When the suet baskets are empty, their little side doors ajar, the starlings form a threatening murmuration in front of the window. I can almost make out what it says: "More suet, and step on it."
Fine, I say. But -- I speak now directly to the birds in question -- you don't have to be hogs about it. Pace yourselves! Nuts, seeds and fruits most of the time; suet maybe once a week. Do you think I'm made of beef fat?"
Apparently, they do. If I had a starling, I'd teach it to talk. It would say, "I'm on a suet-free diet, but thanks anyway."
Write to columnist Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.