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Marisa Ciceran
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Christmas day, 1992 - Nina Ciceran with her two talking European starlings (sturnus vulgaris) - Mickey (left) and Skippy (right).

Our Darling Pet Starlings

The European starling is universally known to be a great mimic. These particular "darling starlings" were more than "parroting" the human voice. They spoke in two languages - a bit of Istro-Venetian dialect as well as English! 

Skippy, the older bird, was undisputably male (by the known gender behavior), and he often said: "Bel Skippy de mama" (beautiful mama's Skippy" and "non staghe dir" (don't say that to him/her"). He otherwise loved to say "Hello" in a uplifted voice that was recognizably that of the person he mimicked (Nina). He greeted people first thing in the morning and even during the night if someone passed their covered cage.

Mickey learned his "speech" mainly from mimicking Skippy rather than directly from a human, so he was less intelligible in his "speech". He was also more "Americanized" and preferred to say in a loud and clear voice "I love you" which Skippy had staunchly refused to learn.

The two birds were friends and shared one cage but did not bond sexually, so we assumed that Mickey was also male... or else a "picky female"? Skippy was about 12 years old when he passed away several years before Mickey who left us in 2002 at the age of 14. To the total surprise of Nina and her daughter, Marisa, they adjusted with absolutely no problem to moving from a private house in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York, USA, to an apartment on the upper West Side of Manhattan where the writer has lived since 1969.

Both birds knew they were loved and they loved back unconditionally. Kissing via their beak and our mouth was a normal routine, and to me it seemed a throwback to the way fledgelings are fed by the mother bird. Skippy also had an odd habit of drinking from a glass. He drank only clear liquids, but could not distinguish between water, beer or wine. Whenever he was out of the cage and saw a glass filled with sparkling clear or semi-clear liquid, he would immediately fly to it, take a sip, and then rub his wet beak under his wing. He kept repeating this for as long as we let him - was he taking a "sponge bath"?  Starlings are avid bathers by nature.

We quickly learned not to let Skippy sip any alcoholic beverages! One time, he nipped a bit more than he could "chew" (with no teeth) when no one was watching him, and he became noticeably tipsy. We learned immediately from that potential danger to his life, and never again was a glass of liquid left unattended for this "wino" bird to drink. With proper nutrition and exercise, birds in captivity may live longer than in the wild, but owners must be vigilent to the unique dangers caused entirely by their human family.

Marisa Ciceran

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Created: Saturday, April 15, 2001; Last updated: Thursday, August 25, 2016
Copyright 1998, USA