“In an era when entire ecosystems the world over are under unprecedented assault, the acclaimed children’s and adults’ author Tanya Sousa has written the perfect story for our times. Part fable, part natural history, and beautifully written throughout, THE STARLING GOD places animals, rather than humans, at the center of the world. With great energy, scientific exactitude, imagination, and reverence for all living things, Sousa reveals how, in nature, there is indeed much more in the world than is dreamt of. Adults and children alike will love THE STARLING GOD equally.”
~Novelist Howard Frank Mosher about The Starling God by Tanya Sousa
I wrote The Starling God after falling in love with the birds who nested in the eaves of my first house. As the sun rose each summer day, the starlings landed on the tin roof outside my bedroom window and scrambled to stay put – at the same time making incredible sounds. There were warbles and clicks and something that sounded an awful lot like a ringing phone…
Later, I discovered starlings are “invasive”. They were transported from Europe by human hands, so that all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays would live in North America. It was only a small flock, but from those few came all of the starlings here now. They succeeded against all odds.
The fact that they are “invasive” makes some people cranky about them. One woman told me, “They came from Europe. They’re European starlings and they would be fine if they stayed there – in Europe.” I had to look away. How quickly we forget where many of us came from not long ago! My mother came directly from Germany. My father’s grandparents came from Portugal. The woman I spoke to had a last name that suggested Irish heritage. It seemed to me that starlings and humans have a lot in common.
The more I learned about starlings, the more I knew I had to write about them. The first time I saw something called a “murmuration,” I was breathless. A murmuration is a huge flock of starlings moving in an aerial ballet, like they are painting images in the sky. Here’s a link for you to enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRNqhi2ka9k. Art? Instinct? Why do they do this in Europe and not here? My curiosity and imagination kept building and nudging me to write.
The final push was when I learned how well starlings can mimic – and how intelligent they are. Since they’re an invasive species, it’s not illegal to keep them as pets. Although I would never suggest any animal be taken from the wild and caged, there are times that orphans or injured starlings are found, nurtured and then can’t be released for various reasons. I’ve gotten to know a number of people who have such birds in their homes. Many of these rescued birds have an impressive vocabulary. Many of them problem solve, and some even have learned to use tools. Here’s a link to a talking starling named Weewoo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VZYG00_qvE. As for using tools, filmmaker Richard Smedley documents his starling, “Chur” using a foil ball (with no training) to transport food from his food tray to his water bowl so he may enjoy a moist meal as he prefers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=490knry73b4.
All of this helped me to realize there’s more to the animals that share this planet with us than we know or understand. Each creature is amazing in its own way, and even the ones we consider “invasive” or “nuisance” animals are perhaps no more invasive, messy, etc. than we tend to be. With that in mind, a novel was born. “The Starling God” is told from the point of view of birds, with none other than a starling as the hero of the tale. My dedication in the book reads, “For the animals who speak although we don’t always hear.” I invite you to truly watch and listen closely when you’re around other living things. What you notice will amaze you. – Tanya Sousa