Starling Winter Nest Selection

bird on alert in front of nest

We have a theory regarding winter nest selection by European Starlings. What we’ve noticed is that a nest put up during winter (November thru January) is poked, prodded, sampled, and in short, of extreme curiosity to European Starlings.  But they seem to not want to use it; perhaps they have already selected a nest for the winter and are just investigating this newfound object.

However, while nests put up in the late fall (September, October) are subjected to the same intense scrutiny by European Starlings, these tend to be the nests that are selected for permanent residence during the winter months.

Construction of cedar nest boxes becomes somewhat of a struggle, since we’ve had birds abandon nests even if, from the opposite end of the yard, we use a circular saw to cut the boards. Sensitivity is key, and perhaps part of why they survive so well (i.e., “Fool me once, and I’m outta here…”). This would suggest a need to build the nests about 1-2 months after they are abandoned after the second round of baby birds hatching/fledging. In the Pacific Northwest, this translates to approximately mid-July/August.

Being familiar with the sounds of these little darlings makes one keenly aware when they are not in the neighborhood.  We’ve put nests in certain areas with no results, and upon reflection, we never heard the birds in the area before.  European Starlings seem to prefer an elevation of around 400 feet above sea level; anything 800 feet or above we haven’t seen or heard a peep from them. It could be a preference for more urban areas, however. This is all guesswork, but certainly a curiousity.

Feathery Nest Visitors

Starling on fence

We now have a total of four European Starling Nest Boxes set up around the property, all at a distance from each other.  They are appropriately named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.  And, as mentioned previously, we’re both delighted and surprised that winter visitors continue to maintain occupancy.

Two starling birds in nest box

Alpha Nest Box:  Two continuous occupants, both very suspicious of us and the first thing we see upon arrival home.  They’ve cleared out the majority of the cedar shavings, which we found out is a good way to track how often any given nest is being “checked out” (they like to remove it and scatter it outside of the nest on the ground; a good visual cue).  We originally intended it for winter warmth and possible soiling prevention; we were wrong on both counts for Starlings, it would seem.

single starling bird in nest box

Beta Nest Box:  A single solitary European Starling has resided in this nest box all winter.  He’s completely removed the cedar shavings.  During the day, several visitors inspect the nest, but it always ends up with just one occupant (perhaps the same one, not yet pair bonded).

two little starling birds in nest

Gamma Nest Box:  This one has an entrance hole on the side, so it’s a bit more difficult to take a flash photo.  Using a flashlight through the entrance hole, the camera can take a picture through a small 1/2″ hole on the perpendicular side.  We’re sure the birds are just delighted at this sort of human behavior, and they tolerate it well.  Absolutely no remaining cedar shavings for bedding.  If you look closely, you can see in the back the removable piece of wood for ventilation during the summer use.

empty bird nest box

Delta Nest Box:  Currently unoccupied, and a bit higher up (thus the odd camera angle).  Some cedar shavings are removed, and as it’s next to the side of the house, we can hear the poke, poke sounds as the birds investigate it each morning.  However, as of yet, it’s not a permanent residence.

If all goes as planned, it should be a great place for new nestlings, as well as the sounds of little babies as they hatch and grow up.  It’s part of the charm, we feel, of early summer!

Ferret Lymphoma

sleeping ferret

One of the problems in owning a ferret is the knowledge that, after 6-9 years, their lifespan is nearly used up.  Ferrets that generally reach six years of age are considered “elderly”.  Tumors and adrenal problems are common, unfortunately.  Our little ferret, now at six years of age, has developed lymphoma.

Ferret Xray left side view

One of the most common treatment protocols is to use prednisone.  Hopefully, we will see a difference in his behavior (i.e., more energy and awake more often) after about two weeks.  Initial dosage for our little guy is 2.0-2.5mg prednisone twice per day for two weeks; if symptoms start to reduce, then decrease to 2.0-2.5 mg one time per day for life.

It was helpful to have ferret lab results to compare to.  By having lab work done a year ago before he started having problems, we can identify the changes to his baseline levels.  The same thing goes for x-rays.

ferret X-ray top view

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


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!