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Western Farmer Stockman

Parental disclaimer: Kids, don't do this stunt at home

I just e-retrieved a missive from the Texas A&M media folk, who, by the way, do an impressive job of keeping Texas residents informed about agriculture. This particular release concerned one of my least favorite birds, the European starling, which ranks close to the buzzard in the looks department and serves no useful purpose, unlike vultures, which do clean up unsightly road kill.

Joe Zotter, a Texas Wildlife Services biologist, says the starling is nothing more than a “rat with wings.” I wish I had thought of that before he got credit for it.

Zotter also says starlings are more than mere nuisance and can cost feed yards, dairies and grain elevators thousands of dollars every day

“Thousands can accumulate on a single feedlot or dairy. We helped one feed yard that had an estimated 1 million birds every day from November to February,” he says.

With that many flying rats, he recommends control measures, which got me to thinking.

One of my first jobs, at about 12-years old, was ridding my grandfather's place of European starlings. I was equipped with a 22 caliber, single-shot rifle with questionable sights, which perfectly matched my questionable marksmanship.

My grandfather had no grain bins or dairies to worry about, just his house, which the starlings used as a nesting site. They clawed into the eaves and built nests where they laid eggs and hatched their foul chicks, which made screeching noises all day and night. They also ate prodigious amounts of insects, and, apparently, corn from the neighbors' dairies and grain bins. Such huge quantities of food created disposal problems. Consequently, bird droppings seeped through the nests and into the walls. Also, mites and other itchy vermin bred in the nests and found their way into the house.

Which may explain why grown people would turn a 12-year old with less than perfect aim loose to fire a rifle with less than perfect sights at a house inhabited by those same grown people. (Or maybe I just misunderstood my instructions.)

It also may explain why they bought me cartridges, but only the shorts, assuming, correctly, that the smaller the bullet the less damage it would inflict. I also assume, since they were aware of my marksmanship deficiency, that they accounted for the possibility of an occasional window incident.

I'm not certain, however, they were quite prepared to lose the oriental vase (that's pronounced vaaaz, and translated means EXPENSIVE). That incident resulted from too short a lead on a starling brilliantly outlined against what appeared to be blue sky but was merely the color of the vase my aunt had just repositioned in front of a window. She eventually recovered but was never quite as generous at Christmas and birthdays as she had been before. Some people just have a hard time letting things go.

I tried to explain that had not the bird flitted at the wrong moment, the bullet, which apparently could cause more damage than anticipated, would have hit the starling and not the window and the vase, but no one was interested.

That unfortunate incident occurred early in the nesting season and terminated the employment contract before I could collect on any dead starlings. The rifle also mysteriously disappeared.

We later discovered that I did get one starling, however, when the odor from the baseboard proved my theory that one bullet did indeed hit the mark.

They refused to pay.


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