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Sharing a starling with God

July 4, 2010

Notice the starlings this summer; you just might see mine.

Last week we had an appointment in a nearby rural town. No summer drive through that county is complete without a stop at a favorite drive-in restaurant there, so we pulled in for a treat.

I got out of the car to claim a picnic table for my family, and was horrified at the dramatic scene before me.

A tiny baby bird was trapped in the parking lot drainage grate. He was peeping and thrashing to get free, but he was so small he kept tipping into the grate, nearly falling through. It was an awful relief he couldn’t get himself out, because he’d only have been in worse shape sitting on the ground in a drive-in parking lot.

I snatched a blanket from the trunk of my car and scooped up the little bird, rescuing him from his plight. He continued to peep and gape frantically at me. “Now what?” I thought with a sinking feeling, realizing what an unqualified rescuer I was. No nest or mother bird was in sight.

Holding a desperately hungry baby I couldn’t feed felt like an awful crisis. I considered crying, but opted for a stop at a veterinarian’s office, where I was given a very useful telephone number.

I usually spend my days feeding my boys. They were anxious to see if I also know how to feed baby birds.

A phone call to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Ogden made me more optimistic. Starlings are not a species native to Utah, so the workers there do not accept them for rehabilitation without a donation towards their care. (Other birds and animals are accepted to help citizens adhere to laws prohibiting keeping wildlife as pets.)

The WRC experts patiently described the care my new friend would need and I took the little bird home to give him a meal and see if he was strong enough to be a rehab candidate.

In the short time the baby bird was in our care, my family received a crash course in avian care. Wild birds must not be fed any liquid besides the scant moisture in their food, as they will aspirate and drown. (Their tracheas are in their tongues.) Softened dry cat food is ironic but suitable baby bird nourishment in a pinch. (It has roughly the same percentage of protein as a mostly-insect diet.) Hatchlings must be fed every 40 minutes from dawn to nightfall; they sleep soundly between meals.

"More! More! More!"

This baby bird was a collection of contrasts. With his bulging, half-closed eyes, pink skin and sparse pin feathers just starting to cover his wings and chest, he was anything but cute. But his eager yellow mouth and his plaintive peep and his determined struggling made him beautiful and divine in ways that completely cancelled out the homeliness. He was just a tiny thing, an orphan, a pathetic representative of a very ordinary species—of no importance, really. Yet my children and I were riveted on him and rooted for his success with all our hearts.

The scripture from the book of Matthew rang in my ears—“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.”

The tiny starling was nothing, but he was everything. He was God’s remarkable creation, and offering him our help—however inept– helped us remember every living thing is known and valuable to a loving Heavenly Father.

“Nature helps us to see and understand God,” LDS leaders taught in 1918.  “To all His creations we owe an allegiance of service and a profound admiration. Man cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creations. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life,” wrote President Joseph F. Smith and Elders David O. McKay and Stephen L. Richards.

The late LDS President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of having compassion for animals when he told of his adventures with his slingshot. He had a pretty good aim shooting at fence posts and tree trunks. Although it was tempting to test it on moving targets, he did not. He remembered singing “Don’t kill the little birds. . . the earth is God’s estate” in a gentle Primary song, and that removed the appeal of testing his slingshot in cruel ways.

“I could see no great fun in having a beautiful little bird fall at my feet,” President Kimball said.

I imagined caring for the bird for a few days myself, but then my family would be leaving town for a summer trip. I figured I’d check the bird into the wildlife rehab program for continued care when I had to leave.

But baby starlings imprint on their caregivers at about a week of age. If I kept him for even a little while, he would become my pet. The folks at the WRC told me it is legal and fun to have a pet starling; they tame easily and are related to mynah birds, so they can mimic sounds and even learn to say words. This sounded fun, yes, but it also sounded like a poor substitute for how this little bird was meant to live. My voice was not meant to be his song, and my roof was not meant to keep him from soaring away.

We delivered our little bird to the amazing professionals at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. They have the expertise to run a NICU for baby birds, and can care for them without jeopardizing their chances to return to the wild. It took me nearly 20 minutes of messy fiddling with a syringe and mash to coax the bird to eat; it took the specialist at the rehab center a mere five seconds before the little starling was upright and greedily gaping for the syringe of food she offered. She was tanned and weathered as if she, too, had started life in a tree. She’d obviously had some practice in bringing wild birds back to the life the Creator intended for them.

I realized then the baby bird wasn’t really mine at all. He didn’t belong to the folks at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, either, even though they are mostly qualified to be his adoptive mothers.

He belongs to God, who is generous enough to share him—and many, many other beautiful wild creatures like him—with us. When we love them, we remember to love their Maker.

"Will some of my orange juice make him get better?"

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Allumer permalink
    July 5, 2010 1:02 am

    This reminded me of my mother. Every year our cat would ferret out a rabbit warren and really do a lot of damage on the baby rabbits. And mom would find them in the course of her gardening and come running into the house – plumping towels in a box for them, feeding them by hand. They always died, the vets nearby didn’t have any good advice, and my mom would cry and cry. Sounds like you’re having more success! By the way – how did you know it was a starling?

    • Kaimalino permalink
      July 7, 2010 3:36 pm

      It wasn’t until I talked to the wildlife rehab folks I was sure it was a starling.
      I love your mother!
      You’d think mammals would be easier to rescue, and somehow more durable than teeny birdlets, but I’ve heard baby rabbit kits are the very hardest *ever*. Even pros mostly know they are keeping them as comfy as possible until they die. I’ve never encountered or attempted to hand-feed a bunny, but I’ve read that because they are a prey species they are incredibly sensitive to stress, and even loud noises can cause enough stress to kill a rabbit kit. They are just not very sturdy–which is sort of another tesament to me how miraculous and divine nature is. . . I mean, rabbits are notorious for reproducing efficiently, but humans can’t help their babies much. Only rabbits know rabbit secrets.

  2. July 5, 2010 2:40 am

    i love love love this post! i love that your children got a chance to see the beautiful helplessness of the baby bird, and your loving care of it. wildlife rehab people have such important jobs.

    • Kaimalino permalink
      July 7, 2010 3:39 pm

      Maryam! Thanks for the love. . . . the rehab place was so neat–there were baby squirrels sleeping in a tank, and every time a timer would go off, all the workers would call out “babies!!” and they would all run to the back and feed the baby birds that needed tending.
      I have to tell you I walked by a shirtless guy at Cape May beach yesterday who had two barn swallow tattoos (one on each pec) EXACTLY like your cute icon. So I thought of you, as I stared at a stranger’s chest. 😉

      • July 7, 2010 8:24 pm

        I feel like there should be something wrong with that XD XD XD

  3. Zpurpleify permalink
    July 5, 2010 6:23 pm

    You’re children are so cute, lovely, touching post!

  4. July 6, 2010 11:01 am

    That was a lovely post about reminding us of God through nature. I couldn’t believe that starlings have their tracheae in their tongues. You learn something new every day.
    I admire the patience you took in feeding the bird. Very different to feeding babies, obviously. Well done and I’m sure it will grow up to be a beautiful and strong starling.

    • Kaimalino permalink
      July 7, 2010 3:49 pm

      Ahh, tracheae. I should’ve known, but I don’t use the plural of that word all that much. Surely not as much as you do, Hummingbird!
      So the experts told me that as various sorts of tracheae-in-tongue-birds mature, they develop the capacity to drink by scooping water into their lower beak and then tossing their heads back so the liquid bypasses their tracheae and goes down the proper tube without giving them pneumonia, but only they can do it and if a human tries to offer liquid then aspiration is pretty much guaranteed. This explained why I see birds drinking from puddles without tipping over. To help a baby bird rehydrate, you can put tiny droplets of an electrolyte solution such as Gatorade or Pedialyte on the side of their beak and let them get some moisture that way, or offer them a teeny piece of juicy fruit, such as watermelon. It’s solid enough to go down the food tube without flooding the tracheae. This stuff just totally intrigued me because it’s so easy to assume all creatures function the same way people do, (they definitely don’t) and people are plenty fascinating, too. But you can’t just start an IV line on a baby bird, especially not in my kitchen, so things get tricky.
      I hope to check on the little birdlet when I get back in town–the rehab folks were pretty confident he’d be OK. 🙂

  5. Brandon permalink
    March 2, 2015 4:06 am

    First of all, I applaud you for wanting to care for animals. I’m the same way. But you may need to look at the reality of what your promoting. Both crop farmers and bird watchers alike hate that the European starlings are one species of birds that are destructive and cause serious famine. Even though their God’s creatures, they must be killed so that the other birds have a chance

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