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Sternus vulgaris. Sternus vul-fucking-garis. They're basically everywhere, and every place starlings aren't, humans also generally aren't. Some genius named Eugene Schieffelin decided to bring them to the United States, in order for the New World to have at least one of every bird species mentioned in Shakespeare's works. The American Acclimatization Society has an awful lot to answer for, when it comes to introducing hideously invasive species to a brand-spanking-new continent, but the European Starling is incontrovertibly the most cardinal sin of all.

The problem with starlings is that they are stupid enough to go where they don't belong and clever enough to be inconvenient to remove. They attempt to make nests in spaces too small for them to turn around and escape, so they get stuck inside these spaces. My father's pole barn has dozens of pipes and gutters attached to it, and every year the pole barn reeks of decomposing starling corpses, as bird after bird gets trapped by her own intrepid nesting efforts. What starlings do not make this attempt will instead strive to displace purple martins from the purpose-built nest boxes which attract those helpful mosquito-eaters. Invariably, dozens of starlings successfully produce four or five dozen more starlings by the end of a nesting season, and my father commences a dubiously legal activity.

From various concealed positions in his house and yard, he shoots starlings with a rifle he has owned longer than I have been alive. One by one, he picks them off their perches on power lines and tree branches. Eventually they learn to scatter when they hear a window opening; they recognize the glint of sunlight off his scope or his glasses. He decimates them methodically, and the survivors eventually depart from the property a bit wiser for their close call. Sometimes he wonders if his actions may be counter-productively educating starlings to be better survivors, but I think he would continue shooting the birds even if he had proof that he was escalating their adaptations somehow. At least once he has severed a telephone line accidentally, but he saw that less as a discouragement and more as a reason to refine his aim.

Right now, there is a magnificent red-tailed hawk living on his property. Occasionally she makes meals of the fallen starlings, and she has no fear of my father's rifle.

Concerned readers should note that along with the feral pigeon and the common house sparrow, the starling is the only bird not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 or hunting licensure systems in the United States. Killing them is copacetic to any local authorities you might care to name; the only dubious legalities pertain to the proximity of electrical lines to the birds in question.

My father has other hobbies, beyond being as gun-happy a redneck as you could ever care to know. He does not merely terrorize one local bird population; he also caters to another: ruby-throated hummingbirds spend nearly half the year in the garden and perch on the countless feeders on his property. The property itself contains an entire orchard of peach and apple trees, so pollinators are always welcome. Several of the sugar-water bird feeders are strategically positioned to capture the light at sunset, reflected off the gemlike neck feathers of male hummers. Dad always has a tripod in place, ready to photograph and record them when they stop to feed. He has hours of footage and thousands of photographs of each generation of hummingbirds to visit his yard. There is more than one way to shoot the birds; I suppose he just likes to cover all bases.


Iron Noder Challenge 2014, 1/30