Monthly Archives: June 2012

Bird Brains

I’m a few days from releasing the first still shots from the Outlaws trailer, but in the meantime I thought I’d give everyone at peek at how things are progressing with our feathered friends. After dealing with this bunch, the term “bird brain” will have an entirely different meaning for me.

Hey, these guys are smart.

They’re clever, in a deductive, mathematical sort of way. When I present them with a new problem, you can see them figuring things out one element at the time. Shakey seems to be the most logical and, I suspect, female.

Last night I added a new bath for them, a tray tucked into a laundry basket surrounded on all sides by towels. They have to hop down through several tree branches to reach it. This simulates access to hidden pools of water in the wild. The other three took my word for it that this environment was safe. Not Shakey. She watched from a perch high above as they fluttered and splashed in the water. When they were finished, she slowly began to ease her way down. After several tentative runs through the obstacle course I had created, she started mapping the exits. Down, down, down, then up and out taking a different route each time. Only when she had several escape routes planned did she finally venture into the water and have a nice, long bath.

If I had to wager money on any one of the four being a successful release, I’d place all bets on Shakey. She’s aloof and suspicious, hates to be handled, and got her name from the way she shakes her food violently before swallowing. Simulating bug kills, maybe? Yeah, she’ll do just fine out there in the wild blue yonder.

I worry about Chip, though. He was the first to be rescued, the one who fell from the nest onto my concrete basement steps. Even though he’s only been in human hands one day longer than his siblings, he’s definitely the most tame. He flies to me and lands on my shoulder, my head, my laptop. . .he likes to sit near me and be social. I do plan to release him, but I figure he’ll be at the most risk because of his lack of fear. I hate that, too. He has the most pleasant personality.

Then there’s Big Mac, with the voracious appetite (I swear he could eat an entire Big Mac by himself.) He’s aggressive and will peck my hands when I reach for him. Melody is the shyest and has an ear for sound. She’s already composing little three and four note tunes—nothing remarkable, but still impressive for her age. She’s the easiest to identify at a distance because of the distinctive light barring around her eyes.

So how do I tell them apart? If you look carefully at the photos, you’ll see that everyone is wearing a different color nail polish on their little toes. Chip wears blue, Big Mac green, Shakey red, and Melody pink. How do I know if they’re male or female? I don’t. Starlings are nearly impossible to sex at such a young age. I’m just guessing based on body mass and temperament. It doesn’t matter one bit if I’m wrong, either.

Now that they’re flying, I’m sure many have wondered why I don’t release them. Premature release is the number one reason most amateur bird rehabs fail. Just because a baby bird can fly does not mean it knows how to live. In the wild, once a baby bird “fledges,” or flies from the nest, its mother will continue to feed it for several weeks as it flies around the neighborhood. Young birds haven’t a clue how to pick up food with their beaks, much less forage. One of the most entertaining things about these four right now is their efforts to grab items from the floor. They open their beaks wide, wide, wide, then scissor them back and forth repeatedly with no real idea that they should latch on to the desired item and hang on. They still gape to be fed and do not eat independently. This is a normal stage of their development and no cause for concern.

But they’re starlings, you say. They should be shot on sight, not released back into the wild. I know, I know. And on one level I agree. Starlings are an invasive species that wreak havoc on our native bird populations. They’re originally from Europe, but in 1890 the president of the “American Acclimatization Society” had the bright idea to introduce every bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. He released about sixty European starlings in Central Park, and since that time, the North American population of these birds has exploded.

Opinions of starlings can be quite polarized. The birds are highly intelligent, can mimic a wide variety of sounds including human speech, and make excellent, willing, and happy pets where such practice is legal. In the wild, they are so aggressive with feeding and roosting behavior that they can drive a milder native species completely from its territory. Large flocks of starlings pose a significant aviation risk and are, in fact, the documented cause of several crashes. In 2008, U.S. government agents poisoned, shot, or trapped more than 1.7 million European Starlings on American soil. I can’t bring myself to oppose such drastic measures, even though I’m a fan of starlings in general. I can’t personally bring harm to an animal in need, but I’m not blind to the bigger picture, either. I’m just as sympathetic toward a starving predator with young mouths to feed as I am toward its terrified prey. It’s an ethics quandary that will confound and confuse me for the rest of my life.

The Syzygy Trailer

Yay! Today is the day Amanda’s trailer goes public. You can watch the higher quality version HERE. Be advised we’ve had some issues with this hosting domain, so if the video doesn’t play for you, you can also watch it on YouTube HERE. We’re working to get those issues resolved, so if you do have trouble viewing the video, please let me know.

I noticed last night that the email notification about my bird post came into my inbox very wide, so wide I had to scroll back and forth to read it. I assume it has something to do with the size of the photos, but I’ve uploaded large picture files before and not had that problem–at least not that I’m aware of. Please accept my apology if you encountered the same thing.

Time to go feed the birds. They’re all screaming at me today. I wish you could hear them.

For The Birds

Good news! Amanda’s trailer for Syzygy is finished! I’ve been working on a way to offer a higher quality streaming video–YouTube converts everything to flash, which destroys a lot of visual crispness–but I’ve had some codec issues. Those seem to be resolved now, but I’m waiting until tomorrow before releasing the video. It will be hosted by a private company as well as YouTube, and I will post the links as soon as I feel comfortable with the video’s performance in high def.

But first, I have another critter story to share. Monday morning, fifteen minutes of flower-watering turned into a three hour ordeal as I watched a trio of baby starlings do half gainers out of their nest. I put them back. A short while later, out they came again. I put them back. The next time I saw them creeping toward the edge of their nest in the eaves, I knew I had a problem.

Before I committed to raising them myself, I knew I should investigate further. First I ruled out a predator, like a snake. No snake. Then I discovered the whole portico over my basement door is crawling with avian mites. And to my horror, so was I! Eeeek! I did consider that this severe mite infestation was driving these babies out of their nest, and I still think it’s a possibility.

However, the most likely scenario is a rather unusual one. Or maybe it isn’t. I don’t know enough about natural nesting habits of European Starlings to know if this is typical behavior. But it seems that two, possibly three broods of babies hatched in the portico eaves within weeks of each other. It also seems that there was quite a bit of communal intermingling—every parent fed every open mouth it saw, whether it was their offspring or not. (Remember, I’m just guessing here based on the nesting arrangements I found.) Well, the oldest brood evidently fledged recently and is now living in the massive spruce at the edge of my yard. Wonderful! Except. . . .

The middle brood of nestlings apparently hears the adult starlings calling to the fledglings and tries to follow Mommy’s instruction, which is: “fly away!” Except they have nothing but fuzz and a few pin feathers, and the instant they launch, down they go.

Yes, the mother bird would continue to feed them on the ground. But if the cool mountain nights didn’t get them, the cats and possums would. So this middle brood has zero chance of surviving on the ground. European Starlings are considered an invasive species, and most naturalists would just let them die. But I can’t. I just can’t. They’re so helpless and innocent at that age. Maybe if they were cute like baby rattlesnakes I could kill them myself. But they’re smart and social and full of personality. . .it’s just not in me to do them harm, even passively.

So now I have four babies to raise. And the harrowing job of facing all those mites again to look for a younger brood that I suspect is still there, cowering in the eaves. Thank God avian mites are fairly easy to eradicate. Sevin Dust is very effective against them. They don’t live very long away from an avian host, and soap and water cleans them off human skin. But still. Who wants to look down and see thousands upon thousands of tiny “pepper flakes” crawling up one’s arm? Eeewwwwww.

I’ll continue to blog about the progress of these babies, right up until the day of their release. And yes, most of the time release into the wild is actually pretty successful with this species. As long as they’ve learned a proper fear of predators and are appropriately skittish, they’ll thrive in almost any setting. In fact, babies I’ve rehabbed and released in the past would keep returning to be fed for several weeks after they were living in the wild. Pretty cool, actually, to be walking through the yard and have a bird land on your head screaming for dinner.

I’ll also keep you posted about the status of Syzygy’s release. I can’t wait until it goes public! I’ve already started on the next trailer, and will have more to share about it soon.

Here is a picture of the babies. You can see the three new guys are hunkered down as low as they can get, not very happy birds. They’re eating fine but aren’t very social.

If you have trouble sorting out what’s what in the middle of all those feathers, just look for the row of bright yellow beaks lined up along the front of the basket. And then there’s Chip, the first baby I found, head sticking straight up as he sits on top of his siblings. He has enough personality for all four birds. If in doubt about that, consult the next photo. He was yelling at me. No, really. I’m not kidding. He talks all the time. Constantly. Even titters in his sleep. I named him “Chip” because that’s the sound he makes when he’s happy. “Chip, chip, chip, chip. . . .” I have a feeling he and I are going to get along just fine.

A Third Article

And the great big animated snowball that is machinima just keeps growing. Check this out, all you Lord Of The Rings fans:

Elijah Wood Voices Machinima Villian