The molting saga continues

Molting birds are not the most adept of flyers, as Ferdinand was unhappy to find out. He went to make the short jaunt from open cage to my shoulder as I sat at the computer desk, and ended up on the floor, looking confused. After poking at anything on the floor he could get his beak on (a shoe, a towel, some loose papers, a bowl of ferret food) he started shouting for me to come solve this starling-on-the-floor situation.

At least he is having fun playing with his own shed feathers.

I will be happy when he is done molting, less grumpy, and stops trying to mimic the air conditioner (I assume that is where he picked up that particular high, mechanical-sounding whine). He seems to be done dropping feathers and is just working on filling everything back in nice and soundly.

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Ferdinand, pre-molt

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Food

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I have had some folks asking about what I feed Ferdinand.

This is an oddly complicated question. Over the years I have played the game of ‘make the starling eat what is good for him’ with mixed results. It turns out Ferdinand wants his food to be in nice beak-sized pieces. This means I send a mix of things through a food processor to make a mix of dry food for daily use.

I get his dry food from My Safe Bird Store. They are one of the only places I have been able to consistently get Mazuri low iron food. Starlings being iron-sensitive, this is important. When we took Ferdinand and his brother Piasa to the vet back when they were babies that is one of the foods that came very highly recommended. That is also the food I have to put in the food processor until it becomes small pieces for Ferdinand. Piasa on the other hand will eat the pellets just fine. I got the picky eater.

I will generally mix some of the small bird blend and small hookbill blend in the food processor while I am at it, to give him some variety. Piasa is fond of Wild Game crumbles that can be purchased at tractor supply stores (just make sure they are NOT medicated). 

I also provide Ferdinand with live food. Mulberry Farms is an incredible source of live insects for starling consumption. Ferdinand will do tricks for wax worms, and I highly recommend having some on hand for your starling. He also loves the horn and silk worms. The soft bodied worms work much better than hard bodied such as meal worms.

If you feel like making a treat, cook up some sweet potato to share with your starling, just hold the butter or other toppings for the starling portion.

Fun with feathers

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Ferdinand is molting. He looks like the most scraggly, unfortunate creature ever right now. At first I was worried there was something wrong with his wings- they had gotten all ragged on the edges. I was afraid he had been beating against the cage or doing something else to hurt himself. And then he started dropping feathers and getting pinfeathers back in and I felt silly for all my worry.

This seems to be the trend with me and Ferdinand. Get stressed something has gone wrong and have it turn out to be something completely mundane and utterly normal.

He is not pleased with the process. He is irritable and is shouting to let me know about it.

But hey, at least I get to gather up the dropped feathers to keep. I lost all of his ‘baby’ feathers in the flood. I will have to content myself with baby’s first molt.

Dear god, I am that parent.

Catching up

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It has been almost two years, and there has been a lot of change for both Ferdinand and myself, so please pardon the radio silence. We managed to lose our home in the flooding in New York late 2011, lived in a tiny temporary place, and finally found a wonderful place on a hill to purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

Ferdinand now holds court in my office, hopping from shoulder to head to hands as I type. He isImage rather fascinated with the keyboard and will peck at it trying to make the ‘clicking’ noise the keys make while I am typing. When not trying to establish his own Twitter account, he forages in my ears plays with my fingers and computer mouse, and checks to make sure I have not left anything in my mug.

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He is still not one for being touched. He will sit on me, he will groom and sing/speak at me, we will play, but hands are the bane of his existence and I don’t think he will ever grow out of that. And I am fine with that. He is, after all, a 

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wild animal. He has his toys, his human to hang out with and is  quite the handsome, chatty fellow. Every now and then he picks up a new word that we did not at all expect. It is sort of like having a toddler around. If you don’t want the starling repeating it, you probably don’t want to say it around them. Ferdinand calls the cats and mimics my laugh quite often. His brother, living with a friend, mimics her cell phone.

But my favorite is when Ferdinand repeats “You’re okay”, an artifact from when I was soothing a young bird who was unsure about all of this.

 

Out and About

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As Ferdinand has grown to fly with a little more grace, recognize the cats as something to leave alone, and gotten into the habit of coming back to check on me while he is out, he has been allowed free flight while I am working on the computer. As I am both an author and graduate student, I spend a lot of time at the computer so this suits Ferdinand just fine.

There are no interior doors in the house apart from the bathroom (our one rescue cat has a very bad reaction to closed doors) so I have rigged a sort of curtain across the door that is pulled close when he is out. He has yet to investigate, but knowing starlings it really is only a matter of time.

Right now his attention is taken up by exploring the cage of the baby diamond dove that holds court from atop my computer desk. The dove has no idea what to make of the starling, and Ferdinand is quite interested in the sounds the dove makes. He spends a lot of time exploring the exterior of the cage muttering to himself and looking down at the dove.

I finally managed to get some pictures of his ‘stars’ as they start to come in along his breast bone. Taking pictures of starlings is harder than one might initially assume. Little fellow never holds still. Then again, that merry inquisitiveness is part of what makes him such a fantastic companion so its an even trade, even for someone who is as into photography as I am.

Getting There

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It is a huge responsibility, taking a starling into your life. And a lot of work. My days have started to revolve around when Ferdinand needs to be fed, when to schedule his out of cage time.

It’s no different than when he was a helpless little chick, but it is easier to ignore the high levels of demand inherent in an adolescent or adult starling. There is no longer the fear he will die if I do not feed him every hour. It is easier to try and cut corners in regards to interaction and nutrition. It is the same with any pet, except that there are no easy corner cuts available on the market for a starling.

Flight suits are a way to control the things your starling defecates on, and restricts flight. Having cats, the flight suit and it's lead serve as a precautionary measure for times when we are moving through the house. Inside a closed room, Ferdinand enjoys suit-free flight.

Before you decide to take in a baby starling, consider that their food is a mixture of dog food, hard boiled egg, apple sauce, calcium, and bird vitamins that you will have to prepare and store. Adult food is a similar mixture, and again it is on your shoulders to prepare it. Baby starlings have voracious appetites and are vocal with their demands. Are you up to carting a hungry little bird around until it is weaned? I had strange and wonderful adventures involving explaining to my staff at the library why I had to step out once an hour to feed the little guy. It was cool enough early in the season that my car, windows down, was comfortable for a starling in his container of towels, both cloth and paper. They need things to grip as they develop or their feet will not develop properly. Ferdinand has one toe that will never grip properly- probably the result of not enough stuff to cling to as a baby.

Ferdinand in his flight suit visiting Mildmay. Mildmay is used to being around a slew of rescue animals, both large and small, but still I have my hand on Ferdinand's leash just in case he gets too interested in Mildmay's personal space, and am prepared to grab Mildmay the instant his body language shifts

They are not cage birds. They are wonderfully social and since you have now hand raised it, your starling will rely on you for its main source of social stimulation. You are it’s flock and family. It will need to be out and interacting with you. Remember, birds poop. Indiscriminately. On You. On things you love. Other pets in the household can pose a threat, no matter how friendly they seem with each other.

That being said, taking in a starling is a magnificent experience. I am most assuredly a bird person, and having Ferdinand from awkward (ugly) little nestling to a dashing chap who is getting in his stars (white tipped adult feathers on his chest) has given me a new insight into birds and their behavior. He is so different than the typical domestic birds I am more familiar with raising and living with- you have to really work to win him over and he is not shy about letting you know when he is unhappy. He is less inclined to just sit on my shoulder like a conure or lovebird, and very interested in exploring everything. He is a companion more than a pet.

He greets me in the morning. Plays happily with his toys while I work at the computer. Sings with me while I listen to music. They are brilliant little creatures. If nothing else, having him, taking him places with me, allows me to scrub away some of the misconceptions folks have about them as nothing more than pests. Non-native, yes. Pests? In some senses, as a result of their non-native status, yes. But they are much, much more than that.

Onward to the vet!

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I work as the Small Animal Coordinator for a local rescue. In this case, ‘small animal’ means anything that is not a cat or a dog. As a result, I have gone to the vet with some truly interesting critters in tow. But nothing will beat walking in with a starling.

Ferdinand and his nest mate Piasa got to see each other again as yesterday was a combined visit. So my friend and I walked in together, and set two carrying cages of flustered young starling on the counter, and were instantly the darlings of the office. Piasa rubbed his face a bit on the bars of his carrier, and got extra sympathy from the receptionists. Ferdinand was too busy trying to look like he was auditioning for Cirque du Soleil, hanging from the top of his carrier and doing improbable things involving feats of flexibility and dexterity that made me rather jealous.

When we got into the exam room, we let the kids out of their carriers, where they harried the tech, making things like weighing them as difficult as possible. Piasa has an addiction to sitting on heads and Ferdinand was determined to stay on my hand. We did eventually get them sorted out and an actual exam took place. We wanted to check for parasites, as they are wild caught birds, and we also wanted to have them DNA tested for gender as right now, well, we are guessing. Here’s hoping Ferdinand is actually male, as I don’t know if I can call a lady starling that name with a straight face. The vet poked, prodded, examined, and appreciated the little guys (or girls) and everyone generally had a grand time. It must be at least a little fun for a vet to get to see an animal apart from the norm. The vet had done some research for us on diet and care and provided us with some articles- above and beyond the call of duty as far as I am concerned.

The kids, wanting nothing more than to continue sitting on heads and hands, were none too pleased with going back into their carriers, but a little shredded tissue to play with while we were checking out settled them down and got us home without incident.

The exam room was one of the first times I had allowed Ferdinand free flight- usually he is leashed as I don’t trust my cats, and I didn’t trust him to come back to me. The way he fluttered back to me anxiously every time he startled off his perch on my hand while at the vet reinforced for me the fact that I am his safety line to the world. That’s what you get when you take a bird and raise it from such a young age. I am used to raising domestic birds- this is new, and as such I did not have the pre-built trust structures. I do now.

In fact, I was not at all put out to come home from cleaning cat enclosures for the rescue this morning to find Ferdinand had worked his way out of the cage and was off visiting the baby dove. There was a little chasing, as Ferdinand was definitely excited to be wandering about. But once I got him on my hand, he was more than happy to explore me for an hour before wandering off to visit the dove again. We trust each other a bit more now. It’s a working relationship, but it is definitely working out.

Musical preferences

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It tuns out Ferdinand has definite musical preferences. Some music will have him singing along in a heartbeat (They Might Be Giants, Frank Turner, Beat Crusaders, Nico Touches the Walls) while he ignores others and will continue with whatever it is he is doing (playing starling soccer with his mini whiffle balls).

Unless he is roosting, and already inclined towards song, he has little use for soft, piano-centric music (we listen to a lot of Vienna Teng over here). Minor keys and music with a very defined beat structure seem to be his preference. He also enjoys things very much if I decide to sing along. I have taken this to mean my singing is not as terrible as previously determined, at least not to a bird.

He is also far more inclined to sing when I am in the room, though I have left the music playing for him and gone downstairs and we can hear him from the living room singing along some times. It makes both myself and my significant other grin. It is hard not to smile when a starling is carrying on.

The poor baby Diamond Dove that shares a room with Ferdinand and myself seems perplexed by all this carrying on, and spends a lot of time peering over at Ferdinand. Ferdinand has no interest in chatting with the dove, even first thing in the morning when the dove is beautifully vocal. The dove is far more interested in the starling than starling in the dove.

Today is a rare day off from work and obligations that take me out of the home, so I have been spending it with Ferdinand and he has been expressing his approval by singing happily for the past hour or so. He only stops occasionally to screech at a whiffle ball.

A handful of helpful information

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The internet has been an amazing source of information when it comes to the wild world of getting settled with a baby starling. A few sites in particular would be of immeasurable usefulness to someone who stumbles upon a situation in which they may be taking care of an orphaned starling- I know I kept some of these tabs open on the computer rather constantly for a few weeks for quick reference.

Starling Talk is probably the most comprehensive source of starling and pet starling information on the web. If you do a Google search for starling or pet starling, the bulk of your top hits are going to be Starling Talk pages, or folks referring you to Starling Talk. The site contains information on starlings, raising starlings, reasons NOT to raise starlings, and important diet information. As they are insectivores, feeding a starling is an endless adventure- Starling Talk provides a good bit of help in this regard.

Another fantastic source of information involving living with starlings is Starling Central. Starling Central includes tons of information on housing pet starlings, concerns around the house, and the importance of free flight time (and the dangers involved to look out for). Starling Central is a very accessible site, and a good quick reference for a starling owner.

Starlings are insectivores, and apart from the mix suggested by Starling Talk, so enjoy insect treats every now and then. I have found Drs. Foster and Smith to be an excellent supplier of Zoo Med’s Can O’ insects. Ferdinand is particularly fond of the mini crickets and mini meal worms. The wild bird section of the page also contains canned wax worms, which he also favors, and dry meal worms which make a good treat for training and bonding.

Because I rent and have cats, Avian Fashions has become an important resource as they produce what are known as flight suits- a combination of diaper and leash for birds. Not all starling owners are agreed as to whether or not flight suits are appropriate for birds, but I am a happier bird parent, and Ferdinand is safer moving with me throughout the house, utilizing a flight suit and leash.

And for those who are still wondering just…what it is about a wild bird generally considered a terrible pest that has managed to make me get all embarrassingly softhearted, here is an excellent article from the New York Times that was published a few years back about the whole  process of falling in love with a starling- The Starling Chronicles.

How a starling ended up in my bedroom

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A few months ago I started wandering up to Ithaca, NY, with a friend who is a doctoral student studying corvid behavior. It turns out we both have a rather large interest in birds most people consider pests. Somewhere in that conversation, she expressed a deep-seated desire to raise and work with a starling. I was intrigued by the idea and agreed it would be a fascinating experience.

A month or so later, while I was out of town, I was called and asked if I wouldn’t mind taking care of two starlings that were about 12 days old. My corvid friend had pulled them from a part of the house our landlord wanted to repair, and their mother had decided was excellent for nesting. Of course I agreed. While I have experience hand raising more socially acceptable birds like conures, cockatiels, and small parrots, I was unprepared for the fascinating differences involved in raising a demanding little starling.

But somewhere in there, I most definitely fell in love with the smaller of the pair. He never wanted to eat, had an infuriating habit of spitting food back at me, and had the gall to beg again as soon as I  (briefly) tried to get back to other aspects of my life like work. Little guy- lots of personality. The larger of the two now lives three doors down in my friend’s apartment, while the little guy, now named Ferdinand (yes, after the bull) lives in a cozy flight cage that has usurped the place that used to contain the dresser in my bedroom.

Somewhere between realizing I have a starling living in my bedroom and noticing his first adult feathers were starting to come in, I decided this has been, and will be, too much fun not to share.