Starling Darling

The Englishman wanted to meet me for lunch at the only restaurant in Thomson, Georgia that we could both agree on:  Hoagie Joe’s.  I welcomed the break on the typical scorching summer day in June and hopped in my car, windows down to release the heat and air conditioning blasting.  “I’m on the way”, I reassured him in a quick text message.  He responded with, “Bring a shoebox”.  I scoffed.  Who did he think I was?  Of course I had shoe boxes in my car!  I even had extra shoes in the trunk “just in case” I needed another pair or two.
I parked my car and the Englishman approached the trunk holding something carefully in his hands.  It was a baby bird.  It had apparently fallen from its nest and into the hot and dusty street.  The Englishman had searched high and low but was unable to locate the nest.  He added layers of tissue to the shoe box and placed the bird gently inside.  It was ugly.  All mouth and no feathers.  The Englishman handed the box to me to carry into the restaurant.  Apparently being American made me more local than him.  We ordered, ate and no one seemed to notice the shoe box under the table.  An hour passed and it was time to leave.  I handed the box to the Englishman.  He shook his head, refusing my offering.  “I can’t bring it back to work,“ he insisted.  I brought it back to my office and left it on my desk.  I called my mother in South Carolina and warned her about her overnight guest that would be arriving with me to spend the night.  I also wondered how on earth I would manage to do my English setter dog transport the next day with the unexpected passenger for a 100 mile leg from South Carolina to Georgia.

I arrived at my parents’ house with shoe box in hand and went off to Walmart to buy worms.  I brought them back and squealed in disgust as my mother pulverized them and tried to feed the bird using tweezers.  It wouldn’t eat.  My mom decided we should leave it alone and that it would probably die during the night.
The next morning I woke up and reluctantly checked on the bird, sure that I would be burying it in their yard.  It was shrieking.  Delighted, I ran for the wormy mixture and fed it.  Mom helped by blending worms, water, cherry and hard-boiled egg in the blender, pulverizing the wriggly crawlers into a fine mush.  I now had the perfect Christmas gift idea for my parents as I vowed never to use their blender again.  Mom, ever helpful, produced a glass dropper and the feeding frenzy commenced.  Apparently baby birds eat a lot.  I wasn’t sure what kind of bird I was fostering so I looked it up on my I-Pad.  We decided it was a mockingbird.  I tucked it into a piece of fleece to keep it warm, packed it into the front seat of my car and drove to the highway to meet Emma, the English setter rescue who would catch a ride with me to Georgia as part of the leg of the rescue transport from North Carolina to Florida.  I had a squawking baby bird in the front and would soon have a strange, unpredictable rescue dog in the back.  I was looking forward to the drive. Emma, turned out to be a sweet seven year old setter who could care less about the screeching bird.  She didn’t mind that I had to pull over several times to feed the greedy thing, stashed away in a clay flower pot.  I met the next driver, passed along the dog and her paperwork and then headed home to hand off the bird to its rightful owner.

The Englishman was helpful.  He used my mini food processor (which I will never use again for cooking) to blend worms, berries, hard-boiled eggs, kitten chow and water.  The image of wiggling worms swirling through the grayish mixture was permanently etched into my brain.  The Englishman, much later, discovered it was easier freezing the worms first before making the bird smoothie.
The bird insisted on feeding every ten minutes.  I was exhausted by the end of the weekend and eager to return to work.  On Monday morning, the Englishman handed me my travel mug of coffee and a bucket with the bird for me to bring to work.  The bird was loud.  It screeched.  I’m sure my office was too cold for it.  I sent the Englishman a text message stating that I had found a new home for the bird and was giving it to my production manager.  He had a stay-at-home wife who needed a project.  The Englishman whined about me outsourcing the bird and told me that he would take it to work with him the next day.  The Englishman took the bird for two days because he didn’t trust me.

My mother arrived to watch the bird, the four dogs, the four ducks, the seven chickens and 90,000 bees for the weekend while we took an overnight trip to the coast.  The Englishman was not amused by her constant status updates on Facebook threatening to make a bird omelet.  In one of her statuses, she declared that we were not the proud owners of a mockingbird.  It was a starling.
Monday morning, we decided to leave the bird on the sun porch inside the bird cage we picked up at the antique mall.  It wasn't much of a cage as the tiny bird could easily slip through the bars and flutter to the floor.  While we were at work, the bird practiced flying and eating.  We began to leave it freeze-dried crickets and meal worms.  The bird began to sing instead of screech and with its feathers completely unfurled, it looked more like a bird and less like a mouth.
It would fly to my shoulder and hide beneath my hair.  It would sleep in the ceiling fan.  Sunday came again and I walked onto the deck, bird in hand.  Suddenly, the bird flew into the Bradford pear trees bordering our property.  It didn't return.  I wasn't ready for it to leave.  I sadly looked at the tiny nest within its cage and the words "empty nest" weighed heavily on my mind.  I returned to the daily grind on Monday and pulled into my driveway at the end of the long day.  As I approached the sun porch I heard a familar screech.  The bird had returned!  I ran inside the long and bright porch and the bird flew to my shoulder, mouth open, demanding treats.  I happily obliged.  The bird spent the night in the fan and then left in the morning to spend its day doing secret bird things amongst the trees, only returning to the sunporch at the end of the day to greet me and dine on dried crickets and worms.
Hush little baby don’t say a word
Daddy’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don’t sing
It’s probably 'cause he brought you a baby starling!


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