One winter an unusual number of peewits visited the flats near Wittenham and Burcote, and remained there for several months. One or two starlings which haunted the house in which we stayed, and slept in their old holes in the thatch, picked up all the various peewits' calls and notes, and used to amuse themselves by repeating these in the apple-trees on sunny mornings. The note was so exact a reproduction that I often looked up to see where the plover was before I made out that it was only the starling's mimicry.

A correspondent of the Newcastle Journal, writing from Yeare, near Wooler, in Northumberland, recently described the performances of a wild starling which has settled near his house. It is such an excellent mimic of other birds' notes that no one can help noticing its performances. A record has been kept of the variety entertainments provided by the bird. Besides its own calls, whistles, and song, it reproduces the song of the blackbird and thrush absolutely correctly, and mimics with equal nicety the calls of the curlew, the corncrake, and the jackdaw.

It is appropriate that this eulogy of the starling should appear in a Newcastle paper, for Bewick when residing there always regretted the absence of these birds from the town, and hoped that they might in time become numerous, as in the South and West. Starlings are such intelligent, interesting, and really remarkable birds that if they were rare they would be among the most prized of pets. Their open-air vocal performances are quite as remarkable as their latest admirer says. They are the British mocking-birds, able, when and if they choose, to reproduce almost any form of song. They do this partly, no doubt, because their throats are adaptable, but more from temperament and a kind of objective mind not very common in birds. Like parrots, starlings are given to spending a good deal of every fine morning in contemplating other people, including other birds, and then in thinking them over, or talking them over to themselves. Any one who is sitting or working quietly near a room where a parrot is in its cage alone can fairly follow the train of thought in the parrot's mind. It is evidently recalling episodes or things which form part of its daily mental experiences. It begins by barking like the dog, then remembers the dog's mistress, and tells it to be quiet, as she does. Then it hears the housemaid, and imitates a window-sash being let down, or some phrase it has picked up in the servants' quarters. If it has been lately struck with some new animal noise or unusual sound, it will be heard practising that. Starlings do exactly the same thing. When the sun begins to be hot on any fine day, summer or winter, the cock bird goes up usually alone, to a sunny branch, gable, or chimney, and there indulges in a pleasant reverie, talking aloud all the time. Its own modes of utterance are three. One is a melodious whistle, rather low and soft; another is a curious chattering, into which it introduces as many "clicks" as a Zulu talking his native language; and the third is a short snatch of song, either its own, or one which has become a national anthem or morning hymn common to all starlings, though it may originally have been a "selection" from other birds' notes. Then, or amongst the rest of the ordinary notes, the starling inserts or practises its accomplishments. Not all starlings do this, and only a few attain great eminence in that line. Obviously it is only personal feeling that induces them to do it, and they get no encouragement from other starlings, though when kept in cages, as they very seldom are now, and rewarded and taught, they might develop the most striking talents. It should be added that, like all good bird-mimics, they are ventriloquists. They can reproduce perfectly the sound of another bird's note, not as that bird utters it, but as it is heard, faint and low, softened by distance. They can also sing over bars of bird-songs in a low tone perfectly correctly, and repeat them in a high one.

To give a rather striking example. Last spring the writer was in the Valley of the Eden, opposite Eden-hall. The vale is a wide one, and on the north-east side are high fells, Cross Fell among others. On these the curlews breed, and occasionally fly right over the valley at a great height to the hills above Edenhall, uttering their long, musical call. When heard, this call is generally uttered several hundred feet above the valley. A curlew was heard flying above, and repeating its cry, but was not discernible. Again the call was heard, but no curlew seen, though such a large bird must have been visible. In the line of sound was a starling sitting on a chimney-pot. Again the curlew called, the long-drawn notes sounding from exactly the same place in the sky. It was the starling, reproducing with perfect accuracy the call, as it was used to hear it from the high-flying curlews crossing the valley. Apparently the tradition that they were good talkers has died out in rural England. It was always one of the firm beliefs of East Anglia that if a starling's tongue were slit with a thin sixpence it would learn to talk at once, but that otherwise it would only mimic other birds. The operation, like most other traditional brutalities, was absolutely unnecessary. Talking starlings were common enough, and must have been for many years previous to the time when they were no longer valued as cage-birds. Has not Sterne in his "Sentimental Journey" immortalised the poor bird whose one and leading sentiment, had he been able to find words for it, was "I can't get out! I can't get out!"?

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From early spring until after midsummer the starlings have young broods in more varied places and positions than probably any other birds in England. They like the homes of men, and build with equal pleasure in thatched roofs, under tiles, in the eaves and under the leads of churches (though a recent edict by the Bench of Bishops has forbidden them the towers by causing wire netting to be placed over the louvre boards), and also in places the most remote from mankind. In the most solitary groves on Beaulieu Heath, under the ledges of stark Cornish precipices, and in ruins on islets in mountain lochs in Scotland, they tend their hungry nestlings with the same assiduous care. The good done by the starlings throughout the spring, summer, and autumn is incalculable. The young are fed entirely on insect food, and as the birds always seek this as close to home as possible, they act as police to our gardens and meadows. They do a little mischief when nesting and in the fruit season, partly because they have ideas. It was alleged recently that they picked off the cherry blossoms and carried them off to decorate their nests with. Later they are among the most inveterate robbers of cherry orchards and peckers of figs, which they always attack on the ripest side. But they have never developed a taste for devouring corn, like the rice-birds and starlings of the United States. They have a good deal in common with those bright, clever, and famous mimics, the Indian mynahs, which they much resemble physically. This was the bird which Bontius considered "went one better" than Ovid's famous parrot: -

  "Psittacus, Eois quamvis tibi missus ab oris 
  Jussa loquar; vincit me sturnus garrulus Indis."

The mynahs have also the starling's habit of building in houses, and especially in temples. There is a finish about the mynah's and the starling's mimicry which certainly beats that of the parrots.

In their attendance on sheep and cattle the starlings have another creditable affinity. They are very like the famous rhinoceros-birds of Africa, to which also they are related. The rhinoceros-birds always keep in small flocks, every member of which sits on the back of the animal, whether antelope, buffalo, or rhinoceros, on which it is catching insects. The starlings do not keep so closely to the animal's body, though they frequently alight on the back of a sheep or cow and run all over it. But when seeking insect food among cattle the little groups of starlings generally keep in a pack and attend to a single animal. Mr. J.G. Millais, watching deer in a park with his glasses, saw a starling remove a fly from the corner of a deer's eye. When they have run round it, and over it, and caught all the flies they can there, they rise with a little unanimous exclamation, and fly on to the next beast. Their winter movements are also interesting. By day they associate with other birds, mainly with rooks. Gilbert White thought they did this because the rooks had extra nerves in their beaks, and were able to act as guides to the smaller birds searching for invisible food. Probably it is only due to the sociable instinct. Towards night they nearly always repair in innumerable flocks to some favourite roosting-place, either a reed-bed or a wood of evergreens, where they assemble in thousands. One of these communal sleeping-places is the duck island in St. James's Park. In hard weather they feed on the saltings and round the shore, especially where rotten seaweed abounds, with great quantities of insect life in it. At such times they roost in the crevices of the great sea cliffs. Under Culver Cliff, for instance, they may be seen flying along the shore and coming in to bed in the frost fog with the cormorants and other fishers of the deep.