It was my last semester of teaching before leaving the university and my tenured full professorship.
Summer has just begun. I was sitting outside my townhouse under a tall fir tree, grading take-home final exam papers.
Suddenly, I heard the harsh “Ca Ca” call of an European starling. My instincts told me those were a mother’s distressed cries.
I ran to my back patio to investigate. Sure enough, a baby starling was on the ground, having fallen from his high nest in a hole under the eaves of the roof of the townhouse. He was only a week old and couldn’t yet walk, much less fly. His right leg had broken from the fall and hung limply by his side.
The next morning, I found a clump of blood in the improvised home I had made for him from a wire box. Miraculously, “Baby” had lived through the night.
Like all baby starlings, he had all black feathers, with a yellow-lined mouth.
I hand fed him a gruel of Kaytee baby bird powder formula mixed with mango sherbet. I dipped the end of a Q-tip into the gruel, pry open his yellow beak and dab the glob of gruel into his mouth. He was a quick learner. After the first day, “Baby” opened wide his beak as soon as I pointed the Q-tip at him.
Three weeks passed. I was convinced I should set him free.
So I went onto my back porch and placed him on a branch of a tree. “Baby” just perched there but made no attempt to fly. When I stretched my hand out at him, he gaped, wanting to be fed.
I immediately scooped him into my hands, saying “You’re not ready to be on your own!”
Another week passed. I made a second effort to release him “into the wild.”
As I descended the stairs from my upstairs bedroom with “Baby,” I was sobbing as I whispered goodbye. My heart was broken. Tears streamed down my face, with each drop falling on “Baby” cradled in my hands.
I went out the front door to the side of the townhouse beneath tall fir trees. I opened my cupped hands and “Baby” flew onto a nearby branch. Then he flew up and up into the tall tree until I couldn’t see him anymore.
At that moment, my phone rang. So I dashed into the townhouse to answer the phone. It was my husband. I told him about releasing “Baby.” He called me an idiot, reminding me that “Baby” would never survive “in the wild” because he’d been hand fed by me and wouldn’t know how to find food for himself.
In a panic, I dashed back out and craned to catch a sight of my starling. No sight of him.
“Baby! Baby! Baby!,” I cried.
Down flew my little starling!
That was it. “Baby” is coming home. We will never be separated again. Ever.
“Baby” continued to be hand fed — for a total of three months!
Renamed “Oliver,” my starling is a joy. A talented mimic, he sings like a canary, finch, and lovebird — who are his companions in neighboring big “cages” (we prefer to call them bird townhouses).
Did you know that starlings love to bathe? I didn’t either.
Oliver loves to take baths in the large bowl I fill with fresh water every morning. When I first discovered he likes taking baths, I refilled the bowl again and again. He took a total of SEVEN baths that day!
Here’s another picture I took of Oliver, perched on my left hand. We’re in my bathroom. Behind him is a mosaic tile I’d made of some Russian Orthodox warrior saint, whose name I’d forgotten.
Remember that broken right leg? It healed itself after two months. There’s not a thing wrong with the leg or with any other part of Oliver.
I call him “my miracle birdie.”