Under her wing: Celeste Ward rescues five baby starlings
By Katie Scarvey
Starlings are not birds that most people care to attract. They have a reputation for flocking together in hordes and being somewhat stinky.
Celeste Ward, however, is a fan. Or, if not a fan, at least a defender.
She’s rescued five baby starlings, making a commitment to them until they can fly on their own.
Celeste decided to take action after finding yet another baby starling dead on the ground outside her home.
On April 18, protected by kneepads, baseball cap and rubber gloves, she took a flashlight and followed the sound of birds up to the attic crawl space. Six feet of the venting, she discovered, was stuffed with pine needles, straw and black feathers. At the end, about a foot from a three-story drop to the ground, were five tiny, pink baby starlings.
“They were still fuzzy,” Celeste says. Their eyes were not yet open. She figures they were not more than two weeks old.
Celeste realized that, like their sibling, the babies would eventually fall out of this nest, and she couldn’t stand the thought of that happening.
She cut off the occupied portion of the vent and put a plastic grate over the pipe to the outside of the attic, to prevent further nesting.
She carefully took the nest downstairs, put it in a cardboard box and placed it in a tree in the backyard ó hoping the starling parents would recognize their displaced babies. She’d read that the parents usually find a nest that has been moved within a few hours.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
In fact, the 20 or so starlings that had been in the Wards’ backyard for several weeks were nowhere to be seen.
Undeterred, Celeste put a heating pad into a box and covered it with a towel. She put each baby bird into a Styrofoam cup lined with tissues and began to mother them.
The birds fuss on the hour for food, opening their huge yellow beaks and chirping insistently. Celeste, who has done a lot of research on the care and feeding of starlings, feeds them a mixture of hamburger and applesauce.They don’t get milk. It’s a myth, she says, that you should feed baby birds with eyedroppers of milk ó since liquid can easily drown a baby bird.
Celeste feeds them with a chopstick, making sure she always hears a “peep” after each bite of food to ensure the air passage is clear.
She also bought some pricey canned crickets for them, and they’ve discovered that insects are quite to their taste.
The babies have different personalities, she says.
“Samson is strong and hearty,” she says. “Rambo is muscular and boisterous. Phoebe is dainty and has a polite ‘peep.’ Penelope is fragile with a high-pitched squeak. And Geronimo is like the kid who thought he could parachute off the barn roof with a bed sheet.”
Geronimo has an injured wing and leg, and a bruise on the top of his head. Celeste speculates that it may have occurred during hatching.
The little starlings are a lot like babies, she says, needing to eat frequently, and requiring tucking in to keep warm. Celeste changes a lot of tissues, as well ó “aka diapers,” she says.
The birds’ eyes are now open and they’re getting active. Celeste is planning to construct an aviary out of cardboard and branches, to allow the fledglings to attempt to take wing.
The Wards’ cats have shown interest in the birds but have not exhibited any predatory behavior, Celeste says.
Celeste says that she’s trying not to have the birds imprint on her, but doesn’t know if she’ll be successful with that.
Nurturing is second nature to Celeste. She and her husband Bill have had between them four children, seven grandchildren, four dogs, 13 cats, two parakeets, two hamsters, a turtle and fish.
Celeste says she’s known for feeding the raccoons, opossums, rabbits and groundhogs that venture into their yard.
“The only thing missing is the partridge in the pear tree,” Celeste says.
We can thank (or blame) Eugene Schieffelin for introducing the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) in this country. According to Edwin Way Teal, Schieffelin brought them from Europe, releasing about 100 of them in Central Park from 1890 to 1891. His goal was to introduce to the U.S. all of the birds mentioned in the writing of William Shakespeare.
In Henry IV, part I, Hotspur says:
“I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer’…”
That line refers to the starling’s power of imitation ó they tend to mimic sounds they hear in their environments, including car horns. For that reason, they’ve been called the poor man’s Mynah bird. They’re often considered to be pests ó non-native birds who crowd out native bird populations.
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.