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.

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6 responses to “For The Birds

  1. Cute !! Good luck with all your projects. Lol!

  2. Luck is something I definitely need, Holly!

    By the way, did the email from this post show up HUUUUGE in your inbox? It did in mine and I have no idea why. Very annoying, so I hope people are coming here to read this post rather than scrolling from side to side to see the whole gi-normous email.

  3. Love that last pic. Hee,hee:) Looking forward to seeing what you’ve done with Syzygy.

  4. Really interesting blog. I read about the baby starlings with fascination. Can’t wait to see your new film.

  5. You’re now a mommy bird. 🙂

  6. LOL! Yeah, I feel like a mommy bird, too. Covered in poop and everything. Uggh.

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