It's fall. Whenever I see a black cloud rising from a field, poking fun at the setting sun, I simply say, "Beautiful."
The cloud is made up of a thousand of Starling birds sharing one song, their song. Each bird was taught the song as a chick, and the song brings the flock together at the end of summer.
My Starling would never be allowed to join. He wouldn't even know what they were.
I never intended to keep him. I actually didn't think he would survive an hour let alone, the night, a week, or the two years he's been with me.
The poor little thing was literally handed to me by a harried coworker who didn't have time to deal with a nearly dead hatchling. I later found out some unknown boy handed it to him and ran off. I was just foolish enough not to pass the responsibility onto someone else.
I work seasonally outside, on a farm, in the cold. The little naked bird must have been hypothermic because my frozen hand was wrapped secrurely around it.
I quickly put it in a box with some paper towels to keep it warm. I watched it breathe. Its eyes were closed tight. It's breathing slight. It yawned. I thought, Hum, Cheyne-Stokes, the coup de grâce of breath. It won't live long.
An hour later, closing time, time to go home . . . alone.
Several co-workers stood around me and the box, making comments of dread while at the same time baby talking to the tiny marvel. Of course, no one wanted to take it home. So I did.
I stopped at the pet store and bought some wax worms. Birds eat worms right? It needed to eat something to at least hydrate. Just something to keep it going until I can get it to the Humane Society.
I accidentally tapped the box when I got back in the car. It was the first time I'd heard its shrill and demanding voice.
I opened the container of what I think are really fat farm-raised maggots and held one over his open mouth. The worm squirmed, tapping the top of the chick's beak. The worm disappeared faster than I could bat an eyelash. The greedy little thing nabbed three more worms before finally quieting.
That night, I learned I would have to find a rehabber who took Starlings. They're considered a pest in my state and not really "worth saving". Unfortunately, the nearest rehabber lived four hours away. A round trip equaled a day's pay, not worth the drive..
I knew nothing about taking care of baby birds. I called the rehabber and got an answering machine. I hung up and did a web search and found, Starling Talk, my savior. At least, I'd be able to feed and take care of the thing properly until my next day off which was over two weeks away.
Honestly, I never ever wanted a bird, especially a high maintenance bird. But I found myself cooking eggs and chopping fresh apples into bits, making a slurry of yuck and cat food, and feeding him on demand with a chop stick from dawn till dusk. I even carried him back and forth to work. Bless my boss for tolerating me and my tired ass.
I felt like I had a newborn baby.
Then its eyes opened. It became something more than a featherless mutant with a wide yellow beak, screaming for more... more... moRE!
It was cute.
My daughter named him, Salem.
Twelve days later, I learned about Starlings with human imprints. Having no contact with birds for the critical period, he would not recognize Starlings as his own species. So had to I face the facts, I could take him to the rehabber when I had time and hope Salem would survive his release, or keep him as a pet, a very high maintenance pet.
Starlings are one of two wild birds legal to keep as pets in my state. It's not recommended, but it's not illegal, I was told. In fact, the ranger I talked to said, "Keep him or kill him. They're a threat to the native wildlife."
I decided to keep him, knowing he could live twenty years or more, knowing his happiness depended on me, knowing he didn't think he was human, but that we were alike and shared his instincts. So, as a human with bird instincts, I needed to do bird things with him.
What are bird things? Singing, talking, letting him poop on my keyboard, remaining silent as he's prying my fingers open and attacking them because fingers are his competition for his beloved face. He never really understood that hands are connected to faces. But we (humans) in the household understand. We enrich his life with toys and challenges everyday. We've adapted our lives for him.
Now, Salem is one of the family, part of our flock. He travels around the country with us. He goes for outings in a pet stroller on warm days. He sings Mozart, Tchaikovsky, movie themes and more. He says, I love you, and calls my daughters by name when they enter the room. He wolf whistles at me, so I tell him he's a good boy which he repeats.
He is a good boy, a joy, and I love him. I don't love exotic pet veterinary bills. But I chose to keep him.
Do I ever recommend keeping a wild animal? ... Never.
Living with a wild animal no matter how small is a huge responsibility. I may have saved Salem's life, but I owe him a life uncomplicated by my human intrusions.
He needs to be a bird. I need to be a writer. My keyboard needs a good cleaning:)