Grandson Abel was very pleased when starlings nested under his roof. Of course they did not stay long in town but took off to the countryside for the summer once the chicks were fledged. Mary Webb enjoyed them too, in Shropshire, with their howls and hoots and shrieks and whistlings.
Their enemy in this part of Canterbury is not the owl but the sparrowhawk: one caught a starling right beside me in the back garden a few years ago, and last month I surprised one with a kill just 100 metres away. I also helped the young hawk by frightening off the thieving magpie!
It’s good to witness a previously persecuted bird establishing itself in our city, though the neighbour who generously feeds the little birds might not be too happy about the little piles of feathers that appear near here house from time to time. Enjoy Mary Webb’s poem, and Laudato Si’!
Starlings by Mary Webb
When the blue summer night
Is short and safe and light,
How should the starlings any more remember
The fearful, trembling times of dark December?
They mimic in their glee,
With impudent jocosity,
The terrible ululation of the owls
On just such folk as they.
‘Tu-whoo!’ And rusty-feathered fledglings, pressed
Close in the nest
Amid the chimney-stacks, are good all day
If their indulgent father will but play
With predatory howls
And hoots and shrieks and whistlings wild and dread.
Says one small bird,
With lids drawn up, cosily tucked in bed,
‘Such things were never heard
By me or you.
They are not true.’