and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
August 2002 #2

Starlings in the attic, Dodos on the Hill

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, August 8, 2002

Speaker Tom Finneran was guest hosting with Peter Blute on WRKO last month, and people were calling in with questions. Deftly, the Speaker avoided answering or insulted all of us by making ridiculous suggestions. One caller asked about a particular wasteful program and Finneran actually suggested that he call his state legislator, and if that didn't work he might want to do an initiative petition -- as if the Speaker hadn't just killed three of them that had already passed.

There was no chance for callers to argue. Eventually, though, the producer called me, and let me stay on for 20 minutes. Finneran kept changing the subject from his raising the income tax rate against the will of the voters to queries about how I occupy my time: why don't I do something about health care costs or run for state representative myself?

Why don't you do something about peace in the Middle East, Mr. Speaker, or run for President? My job is fighting for taxpayers like me, just as your job is getting the state budget done responsibly: balanced and on time. But let's not get into that: it's finally summer vacation time. Let's talk about the baby starlings who grew up in my attic this year.

I don't want to argue about starlings in general, or Canada geese, or anything else that can be a nuisance if they move into your neighborhood in flocks. Because this one family moved into my bathroom vent space, it is like the single rose in de Saint Exupery's Little Prince: his responsibility, therefore something he must love.

The parent starlings pulled the vent flap outward, slipped in, built their nest, and hatched their eggs. Then these bird-geniuses noticed that to bring food to the babies, they had to suspend themselves like hummingbirds outside the flap while opening it with a beak that had babyfood (grubs, worms) in it; and they had to do this many times a day for weeks.

Chip said that their failure would simply improve the starling gene-pool, but the baby birds were in my bathroom vent space, and so were now my responsibility. I could hear them chirping day and night, as the parents struggled to bring them enough to eat.

When carpenters came to work next door with a long ladder, I coaxed them to climb up and check things out in the nest. The next thing I knew, three baby birds were lying on the ground, and one of them was dead. Chip borrowed the ladder, taped the flap open, and put the remaining birds back in the vent.

I worried that the parents wouldn't return and fussed about a better way, bucket hanging on a tree branch or something so I could feed them, but Chip soon pointed out the parent birds were back and flying easily in and out of the vent opening. To help sustain their energy, I put bread on the ground below the nest.

The neighborhood cats had been sitting there off and on for days, their mouths open in anticipation of an eventual feast. My Tandy was, unfortunately, behind a nearby bush when a parent bird stopped for its snack. She pounced moments before I did; she was hustled into the house and the bird hobbled off into the lower branches of a tree.

I don't know if it survived, but a few days later Chip reported two very young starlings flying around the yard, and I didn't hear anything in the vent space anymore.

So I thought you'd like to know that, even though the state budget was late and a mess, our taxes are going up, one baby bird is dead and one parent bird injured, two baby starlings are alive and enjoying the August sun, air and grubs. Your turn to do something worthwhile, Mr. Speaker.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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