Posted by: atowhee | May 19, 2020


We have a loud, busy school playground in our garden.  These are not small people. They’re currently in homes across the region, their schools closed.  These are young starlings, newly fledged.  They squeal, they hiss, they follow around one parent or another, they practice being starlings.  The adults do show and tell, follow my example, play attention children—all the educational moves you would expect from a loud, social, inquisitive species like Homo sapiens or Sturnus vulgaris.

A young starling does not usually leave the nest until it is three weeks old or more.  These kiddies are the color of a female cowbird with no spangles or speckles like the adults.  They will shed that distinguishing plumage sometime in early fall and then blend into the flock. Out of the nest the adults are on call from the fledglings for ten days or more.  That is when they must pay attention to starling tutoring if they are to succeed in a hostile world.

My wife and watch them. They taste bits of plant to see what’s comestible.  They follow and adult and beg, head at a 30-degree angle from the ground, tail down, wings rapidly fluttering softly.  The pale gape is showing and often a squeal is emitted, not far along the sound spectrum from the sound of air being squeezed from a plastic balloon.


They use and corrupt the bird baths repeatedly. Bathing, drinking and pooping indiscriminately wherever they find a slot.  Here we see young wading and then standing in the water, wings dipped into water then splattering it about.  They have seen mom or dad do this so is it learned or instinct?

In the second image above the fledgling is on the left.

Feeding is a whole new complexity.  They can pick seeds off the ground.  But suet in logs stymies them even though they follow adults to the site.  Mostly they can’t even fathom how to cling to the small perches.   Suet blocks are easier, simpler…hang out, eat while hanging.

In this sequence we see the adult moving the lesson from “swallow this” to “you have to reach out for the food sometimes, it doesn’t come to you”.

So now we live in Starling City.  There may be as many as sixteen at any one time.  At least six of these are newbies, fresh from some nearby nest hole.  They are around the feeders, on the lawn, in the shrubs.  They lounge, they loiter, they linger, they starlinger, Never quietly.  Social distancing is out of the question.  They sound like a bunch of geezers escaped from quarantine.  Meetcha at the bird bath?


Across the street from our house stands a venerable cherry tree.  There hangs a sac wherein a pair of Bushtits are now raising their first clutch of the year.  The adults come and go with food.  The sac shimmies even though there is no wind.  There are twitchy little bushtitlets deep inside.BT NURSERY (2)_LIFirst we see mother bird with her tail pointing up, her head end within the nest entrance.  Then a series, two with here at entrance, one after she has flown off to the right:BT IN HOLE (2)

On one dog walk today I spotted two small birds next to one another on an overhead power line–House Finch fledgling being fed by its parent.  Far over the empty sidewalk.


  1. Starlings coast to coast.

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