European Starling Baby Growth Chart

Juvenile european starling bird

Well, not necessarily a chart per-se, but this allows us to plan.  Raising a baby bird requires a lot of time and dedication, and European Starlings are no exception.  What follows is just our experience; I’m certain that there are various factors and YMMV.  However, it helps to have a frame of reference.

Initial Real Estate

The male European Starling will start finding it’s preferred nest to claim.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, this generally means around mid-February.  The male will put assorted materials in the nest and occasionally hang certain yard findings out of the opening as if to announce the open house.  He will then start to perch near the nest, singing and flapping his wings, in an attempt to attract a mate.

bird singing

Interior Redecoration

Once a female has been attracted, some form of unspoken contract is made and both claim the nest as their own.  The female will then, in a very poetic twist of fate, start removing some or all of the interior furnishings in order to make sure that it is her nesting material that is used. This year, we plan to use cedar shavings in the nest ahead of time to help soak up some of the droppings; something we’ve previously done for winter weatherization; it should be interesting to see what, if any, will remain.  This generally happens in mid-to-late March in our neck of the woods.

bird nest redecorate

Egg Laying

Eggs are laid in the nest, one egg per day, at approximately the same time.  Generally speaking, a total of 4-5 glossy, pale blue eggs are laid.  European Starlings know to limit/adjust their body coverage (heat) over the eggs to help prevent incubating the eggs in sequence; this way, all the eggs will hatch at the same time (plus or minus a day).  Approximately early April, with a repeat performance of this and the further steps in late May.

bird eggs european starling

Incubation

Once the final egg is laid, the eggs will receive regular rotation by the parents and they will start applying full coverage and heat.  They will do this consistently for approximately 11 to 13 days.

bird sitting on eggs at night

 

Egg Hatching (aka “Day 1”)

We’ll call this “Day 1” for reference.  The babies will be born with their eyes closed shut and will remain this way through Day 6.  They will be totally dependent on the parents for food and warmth. Mom and Dad will alternate feeding and take out “poop sacks” from the babies as they fly out of the nest (dropping them along the flight path out of the nest). Note to self: Time to move the cars.

baby bird hatch egg

 

Imprinting (Days 7-14)

If you are planning on adopting a European Starling, this is the time to do it. Once their eyes open, the visual imprinting begins. The earlier, the better. Now the real work begins. They need to be fed every 20-30 minutes during the day for a minimum of 12 hours per day.

baby birds eyes closed

 

Some Feathers / Fully Feathered (Day ??)

Once they start growing some feathers, you can reduce the feeding to every 45 minutes. As soon as they are fully feathered, you can reduce feeing to every 1-2 hours.  There will be some overlap with the following stages.

 

baby bird some feathers

Playing, Exploring (Day 18)

Around this time period, they will start to want to cautiously explore their surroundings. Introduce them to their toys and the areas of the house that you will be keeping them in. Lock up the cats, because the next stage is a doozy (see next stage, below).

baby bird exploring

Flying (Day 21)

They grow up so quickly.  Be prepared to be amazed. If you’ve done a good job of interacting with them, they will have bonded with you and will fly to you if encouraged. The image below was just prior to his taking flight.

baby bird ready to fly

Food Delivery Change & Water (Day 28 / Week 4)

One should never feed a baby bird water directly.  They’re not prepared for it and it can actually kill them (the mechanics are unknown to us), and they get the moisture from the soft food mixes that are their meals. However they can now have their baby food available from a bowl, as long as you continue to hand feed them. You can also provide a small bowl of water.

baby bird and toy

Independent Feeding (Weeks 6-10)

While they are still eating the baby formula, they can now eat independently on their own (we’ll write about this later on, because normal bird diets purchased from the stores won’t be adequate for their health and nutrition needs). This stage varies greatly between weeks 6-10, so your baby might need a longer period of time before they are ready for independent feeding. You’ll still see some begging for being fed; you can indulge them to some degree still, however don’t hand feed them unless asked by them.

baby bird juvenile

Molting (8 weeks)

Your babies will start to grow out their new feathers around this stage.

Adult Diet (9-13 weeks)

You can switch them to their adult diet at this stage. The rule of thumb we’ve used is to begin when they’ve been eating independently for at least three weeks).

Talking (15-30 weeks)

You will be surprised at what they will begin to start saying. Don’t be deceived; they’ve been listening to you all this time and have selected what they consider to be their “flock song”.  They may make general bird noises; they may mimic the TV or you or your partner.

Fully Adult Feathers (20 weeks)

A magnificent transformation will occur. The picture below is only a partial change in feathers; we’ll get a better one next time around.

bird adult feathers

The Egg & I

green cheek conure bird and egg

Melvin (aka “Melvina”) occasionally goes through periods of egg laying.  It’s a noisy, cacophony-enriched experience that is only moderately tolerated.  Once done, there’s usually anywhere from 2-4 additional eggs en-route.

Birds, apparently, gain the calcium they need to form the eggs from their own bones. While he’s never complained, in the past we’ve tried to supplement his calcium intake with oyster-shell calcium sprinkled over his food.

This time around, we’re using an ingredient from a baby bird formula which includes using Tums Smooth-Dissolve Tablets (750mg calcium each).  To play it safe, we only feed him a quarter of a tablet. He barely tolerates it and I’m sure it’s not the sort of thing he normally likes to chew on (i.e, anything else made of solid matter in the universe).

Note to self: Purchase band-aids when feeding the bird ill-tasting supplements. It’s the prudent thing to do.

Ferret Lifespan

sleeping ferret

Our poor little ferret is now 6 years old. Ferrets generally live anywhere from 5-7 years.  Last year we did a Deslorelin (Suprelorin) implant, which may have helped and is generally good for 9 months to a year.  The implant can be felt at the base of the back of the neck, even after a year.  So going in to the vet, we wanted to know if the old implant would be removed or not when adding the replacement implant. We also were curious about Melatonin implant options.

As it turns out, the old implant crumbled as it was being removed. The vet was able to get most of it out, and then added both implants.  Given our ferret’s age, we wanted to do what may help extend his life; from our point of view, we just got him!  He hasn’t handled anesthesia well in the past, so we had them do a local with minimal gassing along with a pre-treatment of injectable Benadryl (it’s helped offset issues in the past).  While the procedure is quick, it took several hours for him to return from being groggy before it was considered “safe” to discharge him.

shaved ferret implant

You can see where the implants were done on his back. The first 24 hours, the vet reminded us, are important as his body temperature may be slightly lower and he would need to be kept warm.  We’ll see how he does over the next few weeks as far as behavior and energy level. Had we anticipated better, we’d have a little ferret sweater ready for him, although there’s always the risk of overheating these little fellows. So, moot.

FWIW, Most of the time, the things ferrets die from are glandular tumors.  Theories abound, but apparently the main contender is that ferrets are spayed/neutered too young, so they aren’t able to go through the necessary biological changes that help to enhance their lifespan (One way you can tell that a baby ferret has had this done is by the tattoo marks on the ear; Marshall’s ferrets make one mark for de-scenting, and another for spay/neutering).

 

Heated Hummingbird Feeder

hummingbird on feeder

To our surprise, there are a few solutions to provide heated hummingbird feeders out there, although they can be hard to find.  Our solution came in the way of a plastic cup with a lightbulb that was sold in a local wild bird store for $40.  Excessive?  Indeed.  However, it had the one bit that we couldn’t easily (or be bothered to deal with) replicate: A built-in fuse for the tiny 7-watt lightbulb to prevent any fire hazards.

hummingbird feeder flat circle

First, the feeder itself is the flat circle type.  The hummingbirds seem to prefer this, as it allows them to perch easily. It’s also easier to clean than the traditional bottle feeders.

heated hummingbird feeder

Once attached by way of some bungee / elastic cords and plastic hooks, it lights up when plugged in and is enough to prevent the food (liquid) from freezing.  And at night, it looks like a tiny red UFO in the backyard – bonus!

Indeed, our entertainment needs are simple.

The Case of the Shrinking Cat Tree

cat in cat tree

We have an aging cat.  He’s about 14 years old now, and he’s our last surviving cat.  Lazy Orange Fat Cat, bless her soul, has moved on to greener pastures (Where she can chew on more plastic unhindered by humans and watch the world go by, no doubt).

And we have a shrinking cat tree.

More specifically, as the cat gets older, there is an inverse proportional decrease in the size of the cat tree.  Courtesy of some fancy (not really) power tools.  Really, we just want him to be able to get up and enjoy his tree.  Were it not for the dog, we’d just put his food on the ground.  But you know Booper…

The cat used to need the chair (seen to the left) in order to get to the cat tree.  However, it’s been gradually getting lowered to the point that now, really, the chair is quite unnecessary.  He’s just grown accustomed to it.  Cats:  Nature’s measure of the need for consistency.  Except, that is, for cat trees.

An Aging Ferret

ferret in a box

It’s really hard to believe that our ferret is now almost six years old.  Apparently, this is almost elderly (depending on who you ask).  We’ve noticed his energy level starting to decline in the past few months.  Previously, he could be out for hours at a time; now, it’s only 15 minutes at most.

Several years ago, a vet wanted us to be proactive and help offset any ferret-related illnesses.  We were prescribed Prednisolone Syrup (3 msg/ml per ml; 0.33 mL per day) which we dutifully gave every day for a year.  Did it help? We’re not certain, but we discontinued it as he started to have hair loss at the base of the tail.  Apparently long-term Prednisolone use in ferrets can mimmic Cushing’s Disease.  About 45 days later, his hair started to grow back.

Another thing we tried was a Deslorelin (Suprelorin) implant to offset the effects of adrenal disease.  It seemed to help with his energy level and his ability to maintain his weight, although at the time we weren’t certain.  We’ll come back to this in a bit.

When his first period of exhaustion after 15 minutes began, we did the standard labwork panel which, surprise, is quite expensive in ferrets.  Nothing showed up; even the xrays were clean.

ferret x-ray

Finally, we did what we should have asked for in the first place:  Antibiotics.  The reason it wasn’t the course of first treatment is that there was nothing indicating a need for this.  However, the difference was profound!  His energy level returned after 10 days of treatment and he was up and about for hours at a time.

A few months ago, his energy level began to decline again.  We tried the antibiotic bit again, but there was no difference this time.  We started to assume it was his age, and then it hit us that his implant (see above) was likely out.  As it had been a little under a year, we hadn’t yet thought about this.  So, we’ll try this and see if it helps.  Some good reading on ferret implants is at the Ferret Association of Connecticut.  Anyhow, stay tuned!

Wild Bird Feeding in Winter

wild finch bird in tree

We’ve been pleasantly surprised.  Activities that we halfway took to in the past are suddenly paying off, perhaps due to consistency on our part.  This summer, we put out wild bird food (those square blocks) and also a small hummingbird feeder.  A few months ago we decided to put them back out despite the changes in the weather, and we continue to have a variety of visitors!

hummingbird on branch

Even the hummingbirds are starting to hang out.  The only bit that we’ve not been able to tackle successfully is providing a nest for the hummingbirds.  They’re too particular, and we lack the oomph to research the needed odds and ends; if it can’t easily be built or bought, we’ll choose the path of least resistance.

Bird Nest Adjustment

european starling bird in nest box

For the most part, the cedar shavings that we used to “winterize” the bird nest boxes have done their job:  They’ve helped to plug up any joints in the wood walls, have likely given the birds some needed insulation, and most importantly, gave them something to do.

Almost immediately, we noticed that the European Starlings started removing portions of the cedar shavings.  This behavior is similar to what we see during nesting season: The male puts nesting material in the box, and when he attracts a female, she promptly removes everything inside (to redecorate, we assume).

The shavings are also dropped around the outside of the nest, which helps us identify if a nest is actively being used or not.  While they tolerate flash photography while in their nest at night, it’s certainly not something without a degree of stress for them.

Also, you can see the indentation in the far back of where the bird(s) end up nesting, almost to the bare floor, yet surrounded by the cedar shavings in their nest.

empty bird nest box with cedar shavings for insulation

All in all, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how fast and how consistently the nests have been used this winter.  It’s new behavior, although to be fair, we’ve never had new nests up this late in the cold season before.

Winterizing a Bird Nest Box

european starlings in bird nest box

One of the things that we like to do every year is to prep a bird nest box for our feathery visitors to the yard. Specifically, European Starlings.  I know, not everyone loves these creatures. The rest of us? We build nests.

At one point, I had instructions for building a bird nest box. I’d reversed engineered a Starling Trap and built it, minus the trap (it’s on my to-do list to post a list of “how to” instructions later on). Over the years, it’s evolved into three strategically placed nests across our yard, which are adopted and baby birds are born in each year. This year we put them up early and, by accident, we noticed that they were being used last month by some European Starlings for shelter.

In doing some research, we decided to winterize the birdhouses.  First, we inverted the bird nest box so that the entrance holes were at the bottom of the nest.  We also inserted wood shims where the vents were. Both actions help to reduce heat loss during the winter.  Next, we purchased some pine shavings designed for pets, which (in theory) shouldn’t have any insects or bugs, and sprinkled it liberally along the inside of the nest for bedding.

The first night, the nests were abandoned. We were worried that we’d scared away the little critters. However, the next night they returned. They removed some of the nesting material, however most of it they kept. The nice bit is that even if they clear an empty space in the back of the box, the pine shavings should block any cracks where cold air might get in. Some people actually caulk the cracks, however in the summer we want to open up the vents we’ve built to help cooling.

So far, two of the three nests are inhabited.  The third might be, however we built it with the hole on one end of an elongated nest, so there’s no easy way to tell if they’re in there. And within a week, one of the nests became home to not one, but two European Starlings. They seem to not mind the nightly flash photographs being taken, however this could also be because they’re conserving body heat loss.

A friend of ours recently remarked that his city has seen a sharp decrease in European Starlings, likely due to many home owners covering up exposed holes where the birds are likely to nest. We like to think that we’re reversing that trend, at least in some small way.