This mom is no amateur, unlike the robin whose nest appeared in a photo my merry mother snapped at their cottage decades ago. She labelled it “First-year-mom.” The poor soul had set her sights on the back light fixture; she only got as far as laying one egg before the nest collapsed, breaking the shell, which shattered and spilled. I suspect the sight of the yolk, suspended six inches below the nest, inspired the poor young bird to put more thought into nest sites. I certainly have no reason to feel superior, having once rented an apartment in what turned out to be the site of a former red light district; the locals had stayed, it turned out, and gave many a loud party on the other side of my living room wall; they also played Leonard Cohen around the clock, finishing any affection I had for his voice. And then there was the fire hall. Live and learn is good cross-species advice.
I had not, however, expected to experience deep fellow feelings for starlings, the most-maligned avian species in North America. I didn't dislike them and loved John Updike's description of them: "On the single strand of wire strung to bring our house electricity, grackles and starlings nearly punctuated an invisible sentence. But it seems that even (or especially) ornithologists despise this introduced and successful bird. Given that powerful bias, I was further surprised to hear of a naturalist raising a starling, whom she named “Carmen.” Lyanda Lynn Haupt is acutely aware of the paradox of adoring a particular starling while hating starlings in general. Even so, her inspiration to foster such an outcast arose from Haupt's fascination with the story that Mozart had doted upon his own starling; they met in a pet shop where he was astonished to hear “Star” whistle the first few bars of his yet unpublished sonata; it was kismet and Wolfgang and Star were inseparable thereafter. "In their shared vocal play, their clever backing-and-forthing of aural possibility, Mozart found the closest thing to an avian kindred spirit that the green earth had to offer. A bird playmate evolved, it seems, just for him" (p.146) for, like parrots and mynahs, starlings are true and accomplished mimics. Unlike songbirds, who perform memorized mating calls, starlings, both male and female, compose and extend huge repertoires of remembered sounds. Social animals, they seem to sing for the sheer joy of any sort of communal living. I like Updike's observation that "On a single strand of wire strung to bring our house electricity, grackles and starlings neatly punctuated an invisible sentence."
Mozart may not have attended his father’s funeral, but his tiny fellow musician rated an elegy and a special service. If you love both birds and Mozart, you must read Mozart’s Starling. If nothing else, it will remind you to sing more often.
This photo was taken through my studio window during a whirlwind visit by a flock of hungry musicians who within seconds consumed an entire bush of euonymus berries. I should have opened the window — maybe they were giving “The Messiah” a crack too.