Fabulous Birds International
In May of 2014, the week before Mother's Day, I discovered Clarice sitting next to our inside garage door. I almost stepped on her, as I went out there to get some things out of the dryer. There she was, looking up at me, blinking away in terror and unable to move. It was nighttime, so we can only assume that some neighborhood cat brought her into our garage to have her for dinner. Literally. I have rescued a few baby birds and squirrels over the years who had fallen from their nests. I researched how to take care of them and even took to the Internet to ask other animal rehabbers for help. I was clueless as to how to care for Clarice or what to feed her. Her chances of survival were pretty slim, based on her age and my lack of knowledge of her species at the time. We instantly became attached to her and wanted to do everything we could to help her.
The first thing I did was research the best way to care for Starlings and what to feed her. Thankfully, I found a site devoted solely to their care from nestling to adult stages. This kind of bird does not eat seeds or bread. They eat more like a person than a bird. I began giving Clarice water with an eye dropper and feeding her with a round tip pair of tweezers. She would stick her neck out and open her mouth as wide as possible, motioning for us to feed her. During her nestling stage, she had to be fed constantly. We even got up throughout the night to make sure she stayed fed and hydrated. She could not fly, so she sat on blankets at the time, that I changed for her twice daily. I held her a lot and I could tell she was starting to bond with me and see me as her Mother or caregiver. In an effort to do what was best for Clarice, we drove her to our local wildlife rehab center, so we could consult with them. I did not want to give up Clarice and I could tell that my husband didn't either. Most of all, I could tell that Clarice was meant to be with us. She came into our lives for a reason. By the grace of God, we went to the wildlife center and they were closed at a time when their schedule said they were supposed to be open. We took this as a for sure sign that Clarice was meant to stay with us. It also meant taking a crash course on how to raise Clarice.
During the long ride home from the rehab center, I began doing more research on what caring for Clarice on a permanent basis would entail. I have more than two decades of experiences with lovebirds, but not a 'wild bird' like Clarice. We stopped on the way home and got some things to make her meals and snacks with. After riding in the car for so long, she was hungry and opening her mouth trying to let me know..."Feed me, woman!" Thankfully, the main thing she needed for protein was dry cat food and we always have plenty of that. I began giving her cat food kibble with the tweezers along with tiny pieces of different fruits. You could see Clarice growing, developing some feathers and more of a personality each day.
By Mother's Day, Clarice had graduated from a small box to a tiny bird cage. Even though she could not fly, she could hop. For her safety, we thought it would be best to have her in some kind of enclosure. Upon meeting her, my Mom is the one who actually named Clarice. Based on the type of bird she is, it just seemed fitting. My Mom has always been a bird lover and watcher. She enjoyed holding Clarice and helping me feed her. Clarice spent her early days sitting on our patio table in her cage. At night, I would bring her indoors and cover her cage with a towel. She would wake up very early and always ready to eat breakfast. To Clarice, there was no doubt that I was her mom.
It is a delicate situation when you rescue a Starling. Most rescued birds, as a general rule, have a low survival rate. If you don't feed and care for them, they will surely die. If you start this process, in an effort to save their life, Starlings bond with you. They see themselves as human and become dependent on you. This means they cannot be released into the wild. As they would have no way to feed themselves, find shelter, or coexist with other birds. At this time, Clarice was still a baby. She couldn't even feed herself from a dish, much less go out into the wild. I also discovered that many rehab centers will actually accept Starlings, but euthanize them due to the aforementioned reasons. How horrible to think that a bird like Clarice would be killed when they have such a high level of intelligence and so much emotion. She was a member of our family, period.
In the coming weeks, as Clarice continued to grow, we got her a more appropriate cage for an adolescent bird. We got her a few toys, but she wasn't really interested in them. Her entertainment came from visiting with us and watching what was going on in our house as well as watch all the backyard activities through the window. (We have bird and squirrel feeders). She also enjoyed watching our other animals and talking to our lovebirds (Aspen and Saffron) and rescue cockatiel (Merlin) in the cages next to hers. My husband hung our birds' cages from the ceiling so that they could truly have a bird's eye view of things and be safe from our cats. Clarice also enjoys listening to music and TV. She was gradually learning to eat on her own. By the two month mark, I taught her to pick up food from a tiny plate. She also began to drink from a bowl as well and no longer needed a dropper. Not having to feed her every two hours was not only a relief for us, but also meant she was thriving and learning more every day.
"No sugar tonight in my coffee, no sugar tonight in my tea." ~ Clarice
This is Clarice's favorite song!
In my research, I discovered that Starlings could learn to talk. We have all heard of people having parrots or cockatoos that talked, but I had never heard of a Starling doing this. These are the birds you typically see eating out of parking lots or in grassy areas. Who would have ever thought they had the capacity to learn to speak?! My first goal was to teach Clarice her name. That entailed a lot of repetition, the same way you would teach a baby to say their first words. One day, we were eating dinner and could hear almost a robotic sounding version of what we thought was Clarice trying to say her name...We both started laughing. All I could think was "Oh my God, she can speak!" On her own, she kept repeating her name over and over, until it sounded like a human's voice. Actually, it was identical to my voice. When Starlings learn to speak, they also learn to mimic the voice of their caregiver, exactly. At times she sounds so much like me, that my own Dad (if he is in another room) will ask me if that was me or Clarice that said something? This little bird that could not even fly well yet and had just learned to eat by herself, was talking, and on her way to learning more things.
"Sweet sweet, little Ramona. I think I'll try and phone her." ~ Clarice
(We have a blind kitty in our family named Ramona).
Clarice learned to say simple things like "Hello" or "I love you." Then she moved on to "God Bless You" which is her favorite thing to say. She tells everyone they are "a pretty girl." She can whistle just like a person does when they are admiring someone and she also whistles the theme song to The Andy Griffith Show. She learned the song so well, that I would stop and she would pick up where I left off. Clarice has also learned various random song lyrics. (Who better than a master at music trivia and song lyrics to teach her these valuable things?) Your child learned their ABC's. Fascinating. My bird sings The Ramones. Once she masters a new phrase or song lyric, I immediately start teaching her something else. We do this through repetition, every day, until she starts singing it on her own. Whenever my parents come over they are always amazed at Clarice's conversational skills and make it a point to talk to her. She is genuinely a happy bird. She loves having anyone visit with her and make eye contact with her. She will listen intently to anything you have to say. She is not the kind of bird you would put in a spare room. She wants to be a part of things. There are the basic phrases that she repeats over and over like a tape recorder. And on occasion, she will repeat some random thing that she heard me say. For instance, she will repeat one of our cat's names as if she is calling them. We have a cat named Willa and she picked up on her name. She will call out "Willa, Willa, Willa" with great enthusiasm. Willa gets to hear her name multiple times a day, let me tell you. This taught us to keep profanity to a minimum around Clarice. She recently learned to say "you're so pretty...pretty, pretty, pretty!" Over time, she has learned more phrases and is always work in progress. Her favorite thing is to run through her entire vocabulary when she knows someone is paying attention to her.
"Living after midnight, rockin' to the dawn." ~ Clarice
When making or receiving non-personal calls, I have to go in my office and shut the door so that I don't sound like I am working in The Rainforest. Between two birds that sing and one that talks, I can't shut their sounds out completely, but do my best to keep things quiet when I'm on the phone. In an effort to keep Clarice entertained, I will sometimes turn on music. Although she has heard all kinds of music in this house, she seems to like Rick Springfield or 70s easy listening type of songs. She prefers songs where she can actually hear the words instead of mostly music. That said, I sometimes put it on The Disney Channel so she can watch cartoons or kids' shows. It keeps her somewhat occupied during the times when I have to go shut myself off from things while at my desk. When she feels I have been absent from the room for too long, she will start saying her name over and over. She actually thinks that I am Clarice. When she wants attention or food, this is how she lets me know. At no point has she ever made that connection that she is Clarice.
Starlings are also very clean animals. I change her water frequently because she uses her water dish for three purposes... Drinking, going potty, and bathing. When she bathes, she splashes her water everywhere. Luckily, we have tile floors, so clean up is easy. One of our kitties, a deaf male named Luca, has the ability to jump up about 10 feet, flat-footed. Since he can't hear anything, he gets his entertainment by watching things. (The second hand on a clock, the TV, Clarice, etc...) Clarice has learned that if he is looking at her too much, it is time to splash a little water on him. He cannot reach her and he actually likes water. So this has become more of a game between these two. If he keeps bugging her or tries to jump, she will then resort to just plain old screaming.
"Just like the white winged dove, sings the song sounds like she's singing, whoo-whoo-whoo." ~Clarice
A typical meal for Clarice is small pieces of cat kibble, (this is how she gets most of her protein), some chopped up veggies or fruit and crushed granola. We sprinkle each meal with a little poultry mash or ground up mealworms, which are also high in protein. We tried various snacks suggested for her species and some she didn't care for. She likes things she can easily pick up. Mixtures or liquid type things (like yogurt or cottage cheese) do not appeal to her. If her fruit is mashed up too much, she won't eat it. It has to be in pieces. Broccoli slaw, fresh green beans, spinach, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, carrots and kale are some of her favorite things. We got a mini food processor for this purpose. We make her a combo veggie mash with assorted fruits and vegetables. It just so happens, the other birds enjoy it, too. Another favorite snack of hers is dried mixed fruit that they sell in the toddler section. I just have to break it up into pieces that she can eat. I make sure every meal is different so that she has a variety of colors/choices on her plate. She eats off of a small plate, not out of a bowl. We are still learning more each day about her various likes and dislikes. She is willing to try almost anything. In fact, she is always up for sampling whatever we are eating and will take it right from my hand. Unlike most other birds, she doesn't eat plain bread, but loves small pieces of cornbread or wheat tortillas. Given that we are cruelty-free, we also eat a lot of meatless meats. (These are also very high in protein). Clarice loves tiny bits of the MorningStar bacon or Quorn chicken. I have never found caring for her to be complicated. In fact, it is fairly easy. We eat pretty healthy so she just eats smaller versions of the things we eat.
Clarice now shares her large flight cage with two roommates...A stuffed puppy she has had since she was a baby and a small stuffed koala. We have them sitting on both sides of her perch, so she has someone to snuggle with at night. She is in a daily routine, 7 days a week, of being covered up at 8pm and uncovered when we get up in the morning. When it is approaching her bedtime, she knows. Whenever I get up in the middle of the night to check on the other animals or get something to drink, she always hears me. There is no sneaking past her. If I turn on a light, I will always hear "Clarice?"...As if she is making sure that it is me. She waits for my response. I will say "Hello, Clarice" and it sort of lets her know everything is OK.
I have always had a love for all animals. I have rescued quite a few of them over the years. But Clarice (in our hearts) is as much a part of things as a dog or cat would be. In many ways, she is like a little person. (She is far more intelligent than some people). While I have always been an advocate for taking certain wild animals to rehab centers or going through professional rehab training for their relocation, we knew that did not apply to Clarice. Unlike the squirrels, possums, and raccoons that we have rescued, she could not be taught the survival skills necessary to make it in the wild. Not by us or a rehab center. Our hearts and minds knew she would actually do best with us. We love her dearly and she continues to amaze us every day. Birds are just fascinating creatures! A special thank you to Clarice and all feathered, fabulous beauties for making our world a more interesting place.
"I want to fly like an eagle, to the sea. Fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me." ~ Clarice
*A Special Note: Please do not ever remove any wild bird from their nest for the purpose of keeping them as a pet. If you find a nestling out of its nest, try to locate the nest and put the bird back with its mother. If a nest cannot be located or you have no idea where the bird came from, contact your nearest local wildlife rehabilitation center immediately. Many of them have trained volunteers who foster these birds (and other animals) who come to them as orphans. You can also look up local rehabbers, who have the setups to care for these animals in their homes. They are best equipped to help these animals and ensure their best chances of survival. So many people mean well, but if you have not been properly trained as a rehabber, your chances of keeping a bird or baby animal alive are slim to none. Something as simple as handling a baby bird or animal improperly can kill them. They also require around the clock care and most people cannot do that. Do what is in the best interest of the animal.