At a recent gathering of retired teachers at Mauer Brother's tavern in Elba, a friend showed me a picture of Lyanda Lynn Haupt's book "Mozart's Starling."
Starlings are an invasive bird that has thrived in the U.S. after a few dozen were brought to New York's Central Park. During the last hundred years, they have spread across the country in such large numbers that they are now considered the No. 1 enemy of birders across the land. But before finishing the first chpater of "Mozart's Starling," I was hooked.
I read about starlings and the damage they do to crops, native bird habitats and even humans. One flock of thousands of birds chocked an airplane's engines, bringing down the plane and killing 62 people. But what I didn't know is how much of a mimic starlings are.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a starling for a pet for more than three years. He bought "Star" from a pet shop because the bird sang out pieces of Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, a piece Mozart had recently composed.
As a naturalist, and former animal rehab worker, author Haupt knew quite a bit about starlings, a bird most rehabbers discard, rather than waste time and resources to heal. I was impressed that she considers any bird worth trying to save, and did so. But once she decided to write about Mozart’s Star, she knew she needed to have a pet starling to fully understand why he kept such a bird.
With help from her reluctant husband, they plucked a week-old starling out of a nest, took it home and their journey began. It would take a whole book to tell everything she learned from and about her starling. It became an important part of their household, freely flying about from room to room, and getting into more trouble than a handful of preschoolers.
Once old enough to sex, Haupt named her Carmen. Carmen would often land on her shoulders or computer, peck at her clothes, scavenge food, steal small objects, snuggle up to her, and defecate on or around her. Carmen readily picked up numerous words, phrases and sounds.
Haupt also traveled to Vienna where Mozart had lived with Star. There, Haupt visited the only Mozart house still standing, trying to picture where Star would have roamed.
Based upon her experiences with Carmen, and walking thru Mozart’s house, she speculated how important Star must have been to Mozart and his work. However, couldn’t answer how the bird had learned to mimic Mozart’s piece, something many scholars have speculated about.
Star’s importance to Mozart is proved by this: Mozart did not attend hisown father’s funeral,but when Star died, he held a funeral procession, including singing and an epitaph.
I’ve never been overly bothered by starlings. I enjoy seeing their splendor, when their fall molt covers them with iridescent dark feathers with cream-colored tips. They look almost golden to me against the darker feathers which become their breeding plumage once the creamy tips wear off with normal flight.
Maybe this coming spring I will look for a starling nest to acquire one of these amazing birds and learn first-hand how interesting they are, and undoubtedly what a headache they are to raise. I you have any starling stories, please share them with me.