You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
On June 1, 2003, I posted the following on The Starling Talk message board:
My husband brought home a juvenile (approx. 6 weeks old) starling today. I think that he (the bird, not my husband) got disoriented by a large storm we had yesterday.
I hand fed him for a couple of hours. Then he started eating voraciously from a dish I put in the bottom of his cage.
We have ten pet parrots (mainly small ones), and I have published a number of articles in Bird Talk and Bird Times. I have wanted a pet starling for a long time. This little guy will be much loved and well cared for.
We are amazed at how quickly he is adapting to life in our apartment. He knows the “up” command (hard to believe, but true), pops onto my finger when I open his cage, and likes to have his head scratched. Right now, he can sit on our birds’ manzanita “tree” in the living room (supervised, of course).
We quickly learned that our baby starling, which we named Luna, was smarter than any of our parrots. He would fly to my husband’s shoulder or mine depending on who had more interesting food on our plates. Of course, we feed the charming little fellow and a lifetime habit of joining us for meals began. I quickly tired of him throwing his food around (starlings are not neat eaters), but my husband had infinite patience and let Luna eat three meals a day with him. So, in addition to his Starling Talk-recommended diet of ground dog food mixed with chicken mash, Luna ate healthy, bird-safe people food. Chicken curry was his favorite, so my husband cooked it for the bird even when when no humans wanted it.
Starlings are great mimics and can learn to impersonate everything from honking horns to human speech. Luna never learned how to talk, but he made “kissy” noises and could imitate every bird in our flock. It was quite startling to hear the “gack gack!” of my beloved nanday conure or the high-pitched screech of my darling sun conure long after they passed away.
Luna and our parrots didn’t interact very often. They seemed to realize that they weren’t “birds of a feather.” My husband and I were his flock. In addition to eating meals with us, he would sit on our shoulders or our heads and groom us. His favorite thing was to sit on one of our arms and take a sunbath. The first time that he did it, we thought that that he was having a stroke: His eyes glazed over, his beak hanged open, his body went limp and his wings spread wide. It truly looked as if he were “sun drunk.”
Luna was also a notorious jewelry thief. I used to sit on the couch and take off my jewelry while I watched the evening news. I’d lay it on the couch cushion and then put it in my jewelry box when I got up. That habit ended after Luna flew across the room, picked up an earring and flew away with it.
In the past few years, Luna slowed down considerably. His eyesight grew dim and he rarely flew. We would carry him on our fingers from his cage to the living room so he could sit on the (covered) couch while the other birds sat on the above-mentioned tree. He developed arthritis in his toes and had difficulty grasping perches, so he often sat on the floor of his cage. He continued to eat meals with my husband, who patiently fed him the tastiest morsels and encouraged him to drink his vegetable juice. Several times, we thought that he was too frail to make it, that his age and declining health, combined with changes in the weather, were going to do him in. But he bounced back time after time.
Living with an aging pet was a gift. He was fragile and utterly dependent upon us for mobility, food and company. His mortality was a daily reminder of my own…of everybody’s. If I spoke to him more gently, more lovingly, because he was a revered, aging family member, should I not speak to myself more gently? To my husband? To everyone?
Yesterday, my husband told me that Luna was declining rapidly. This time, it was clear that he wasn’t going to bounce back. He was too weak to eat or drink. He was lying on the floor of his cage with his eyes closed and his beak pointed straight towards the ceiling. Before I went to bed, I held him in my hands. He weighed next to nothing. I told him that it was okay if he wanted to go, that we would miss him, but that we didn’t want him to continue to suffer. I whispered that in Heaven he would be able to fly again and that we would join him there some day.
Luna spent today lying on a nest of tissues on the bottom of his cage. This evening, my husband told me that our beautiful starling had passed away. The idea of him soaring among the angels is the only thing keeping my heart from breaking.