I suppose it shouldn’t be all that surprising that, in a life as consistently odd as mine, my baby starling has gone to live with a Wrenn.
And another starling. Named Gershwin.
From the time my daughter brought home the baby bird she’d found on the street, my plan had been to set him free once he was able to feed himself and fly. I’d tried not to handle him any more than was necessary so he wouldn’t get too comfortable around people, but little Kramer had been so weak for so long there had been no way to avoid it. Complicating matters even more, it wasn’t just people he liked. He’d grown fond of felines as well.
Our two cats have become rather docile gentlemen in their senior years, and during Kramer’s stay, they kept him close company. When I’d come home from work, the boys would be stretched beside his cage, often covered with seeds or dried meal worms or whatever else Kramer flung out. The layers of mess suggested the cats hadn’t moved for hours. When they stood, there would be cat-shaped body outlines of debris on the floor.
The cats were enthralled by Kramer. They’d press their faces to the bars of his cage, letting him tuck at their whiskers or peck at their nose. During Kramer’s practice flights, he seemed to aim for the cats. Since there are far too many bloodthirsty cats roaming loose in my neighborhood, I began to realize freedom for Kramer would likely mean a quick and violent demise.
Then a Wrenn came to the rescue. Offered her nest.
I first met Marilyn Wrenn years back, when our daughters were involved in Children’s Theater. Back then, I’d written a column about a blue jay my parents had raised. Bammy had been Mom’s baby for nearly 13 years. Turns out Marilyn’s mom had raised a blue jay as well, with hers living to age 20.
Skip ahead a dozen or so years, and switch out our mothers for Marilyn and me, then swap blue jays for baby starlings, and history is repeating itself. Except this time, instead of the birds living separate lives in two houses, they’re now together.
After I first wrote about Kramer, Marilyn saw his picture in the paper and recognized him as a starling. (We’d been thinking grackle or cow bird.) She emailed, telling me about their own baby starling, Gershwin, who came to them courtesy of a trip to the Farmer’s Market for Mother’s Day flowers. They’d gone for impatiens and returned with a baby bird found in a basket of blooms.
Gershwin had thoroughly imprinted on people, especially her daughter Emily, and he was also well accustomed to cats, so they decided to keep him. She offered to adopt Kramer as well, since starlings aren’t generally solitary creatures. Her husband, Stephen Haynes, was putting the finishing touches on an aviary, and it was easily large enough for two.
Before anyone gets up in arms about the illegality of keeping wild birds, starlings are not on the list of creatures that are banned (or proposed to be banned) in West Virginia. They’re intelligent and personable, quite skilled at mimicking sounds, and make wonderful pets.
As soon as I walked in Marilyn’s house—dubbed the Wrenn’s Nest—I knew I’d made the right decision for Kramer. These are bird-loving people.
Marilyn was born a Wrenn, and said she’s always loved birds.
“I remember asking my second grade teacher how to spell ‘ptarmigan.’ The silent ‘p’ was throwing off my research efforts,” Marilyn said. “When other kids were doing bird reports on robins and cardinals, I was doing mine on the mating rituals of the African Hornbill. Not the greatest strategy for fitting in during the middle school years, but I can’t tell you how many times being able to name all 17 species of penguins has been a real ice breaker at parties.”
Although Marilyn studied ornithology at the University of Kentucky as part of her master’s program, she said pretty much the only time she gets to use that part of her education in daily life is with this pair of goofy starlings.
Kramer and Gershwin have bonded nicely. They said he’s now flying–and landing–without the humiliating face plants he was doing before. They’ve even managed to reign in his meal worm addiction, transitioning him to a more balanced diet.
I was surprised how empty our nest felt after he was gone, how it was suddenly a little too quiet (although a lot more clean). I have no doubt the cats missed him, as for the first few days, they regularly checked the spot where we’d kept him to see if he’d returned.
Much as I liked the idea of Kramer flying free, I prefer knowing he’s safe, that he isn’t going to be harmed by humans or hawks, or eaten by cats.
I love that he has a companion, and people who care for him.
And the word nerd in me really loves that they’re Wrenns.