Monday, November 1, 2010

Dem Bones

If intrigued with skeletons, closets are not the only place to look. I know of at least one that’s been hanging around  for some time - several years, at least. No, I’m not talking about our beloved cemetery.

Deeply attuned to the natural world, I consider myself to be fairly observant and regularly notice the comings and goings of any wild critter that happens to cross my path. For as long as I can remember, starlings have found wonderful (for them!) nesting places in the vicinity of our church’s roof. This is not a rare event - these birds are extremely opportunistic and readily make use of any niche that suits them, including that of another bird.

Lee Karney - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 I must admit, I have a bone to pick with starlings. In short - I don’t like them. They are too adaptable, belligerent, numerous, noisy, messy, pesky, cannibalistic, push-everyone-else-out-of-the-way, take-over-the-world for my blood. Introduced from Europe in the late 1800s, they were part of one man’s scheme to put every one of the birds mentioned by Shakespeare into the New World. I think this man succeeded beyond his wildest expectations with the starlings. I have nothing against Shakespeare - he was a keen enough observer to note that starlings do have a wonderful gift of vocal mimicry. And, to their credit, they devour huge numbers of insects, spiders, and worms. In the early spring, their iridescent color rivals that of many other birds of beauty. Still, they are one of the few types of birds that we won’t allow in our yard - run them off every chance we get. If we didn’t, they’d simply take over this territory and claim it as their own - real bully birds.

For quite a few years, one of their favored nesting places at the church was a small hole under the eaves, left over from some sort of pipe. Totally protected, accessible only from the underside, with no branches or other perches outside the opening for potential predators to use, this seemed a perfect spot. Being as adaptable and agile as they are, the parent starlings had no trouble at all building a nest, laying and brooding a clutch of eggs, feeding and caring for the noisy offspring. Noisy they were - and very messy!

But one year something happened. I did not witness it, was not even aware of it until long after the fact. One day I thought to look up into that small hole - in the corner just above and to the right of the main door - and saw a complete bird skeleton peering out. Did the bird get caught in some way, suffer from an illness, too high temperature, or lack of water? Did something happen to the parent birds, leaving the too-young birds alone? Are there other skeletons wedged behind this one? I have no answers, but one thing is clear - the starlings have never again nested in that particular hole.

Even they, it appears, are afraid of skeletons ...

(The starling is mentioned only once by Shakespeare, in a passage which shows that in his time this bird, which has so remarkable a power of imitation, was taught to say some words. The fiery Hotspur declares that although the King had forbidden him to speak of Mortimer he would find his Majesty:
“When he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’
I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.”
1st Henry IV – I, 3)

... “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all came from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

     Now all has been heard;
          here is the conclusion of the matter
     Fear God and keep his commandments,
          for this is the whole duty of man.
     For God will bring every deed into judgment.
          including every hidden thing,
     whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 and 12:13-14


  1. poor little bird! BUT...i am intrigued by bones!! weird, i know...i find them...collect them...so to me, this discovery of yours...is a terrific find!

    yes, when ever i run across bones...i wonder what happened...how did they get here? what kind of animal is it?

    very cool story...and pictures!

  2. Thanks so much, Laura. I, too, am a "lover of bones" - they are, after all, what gives many of us creatures our basic structure & support. And they are so intricately made & connected! I collect, clean, & mount them, & use them for education purposes. So many folks, of all ages, really have never studied this basic component of life & have no idea how marvelous they really are. Love your art work with them, by the way!