Bewildered Birder

The question of how to help non-human animals, like the question of which humans to dedicate our lives to, can be excruciating.

Perhaps even now you have already decided what to do.

The Help Desk is a monthly advice column from Kristin Dombek. Advice-seekers may submit questions to askkristin@nplusonemag.com.

Dear Help Desk:

Here’s the story, in a birdshell. I found a baby bird in the middle lane of a three-lane bank drive-through in 104 degree heat huddled next to a concrete pillar in Rhinebeck. Too hot and too much traffic to hope for parental rescue. Put him in the basket of my scooter and took to a meeting, then home. Fed worms and mashed blueberries from the garden for three days, feeding him hourly as internet suggested. He was thriving and we were bonding. I mistook him for a blue jay due to the striping on his wings and blueish tint to his incoming feathers. Then had to head into the city for the weekend. Overnight his wingtip feathers turned brown and I realized with HORROR that he’s a grackle, aka starling, aka Devil Bird.

I’m a totally amateur birder but have lost two nests of baby bluebirds to grackles and can’t ethically nurse a bird when serious ornithologists suggest destroying their eggs, killing nestlings, etc. But we’ve bonded. Friends and family have all followed the saga on FB. My bird friends say kill. My mother says “He enjoys his life as much as you do yours.” Help!

Bewildered Birder


Dear Bewildered Birder,

This is a very important and complicated question and also, clearly, a very pressing one. The Help Desk usually takes from four to eight months to answer a question, in order to research all aspects thoroughly, but I am afraid that in your case this will be much too slow. The Help Desk is also in China right now, literally, and everything is even slower, because of the internet connection, and I apologize for the delayed reply during what must be a very stressful time. Perhaps even now you have already decided what to do.

The question of how to help non-human animals, like the question of which humans to dedicate our lives to, can be excruciating; the minute you commit yourself to one being, or one group, you take your time and care from another. In this case, caring for this grackle, you worry, may mean the death of too many bluebirds and such down the line. This is heartbreaking but, according to the one website I was able to access here, likely true.

Here is my very quick response. I could not kill this grackle, anyway, because of the thing your mother says. But also for another reason. This is your grackle. Not as in you own this grackle, but as in this is the being you are caring for, the one who is near, and it is not this little baby grackle’s fault that the expansion of human civilization has made it impossible for enough of his or her natural predators to survive, such that grackle bad behavior has run rampant. Later, when you are caring for nests of bluebirds, your job is to fight grackles, but right now your job is to care for this one. So I’d vote for doing that, on the one hand, and dealing with the larger problem of grackles in some other way, like working with others who care about this grackle situation to make Rhinebeck more hospitable to hawks and such.

On the other hand, I am not a birder, and my tendency not to interfere in the lives of other animals can get out of hand, for example once I let my entire apartment become overrun with mice because I would not kill them and eventually had to just stop going home. So if you have killed this grackle, I don’t judge you, and I’m sorry that you had to.

I may respond at greater length to the underlying issues after a while, once I’ve had time to research the history of grackles in your area and the larger problem of how we should treat other animals, which will take a while. Anyway, I think I would rather not know what you decide to do, though I’m dying to know.


The Help Desk

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