Guilty conscience

I gotta come clean. I’m an accessory to a pre-meditated mass murder, and I hope writing about it will relieve lingering angst.

On one side of my house, there’s a woodpecker hole in the trim near the roof line. This spring, a starling moved in. Starling: a dark bird, blackbird-sized, with a yellow bill and an iridescent sheen when the light hits it right. Common as carp, they’re scrappy, resourceful and competitive little buggers, living in urban and rural settings with equal ease. They do have one black mark on their record, and that’s an aggressive willingness to take over the nests of more valued songbirds. For this reason, serious birders hold the starling in low, semi-reviled esteem.

I didn’t have a problem with her. I knew she was a she because I could hear her chicks in the nest, squallering for food. But I wasn’t crazy about a whole family of starlings holing up in my house. In fact, I got surprisingly hard-hearted about the idea. Thinking of them as pests rather than birds, I actually thought about ways to kill the babies—go up there with a hose, maybe, or just board the hole up and let ’em starve—but that was all too brutal. I wasn’t that bothered by their existence. What the heck, the little thugs could fatten up and then be gone.

Enter the gopher snake. The hungry assassin. The reptilian hit man. One afternoon, I noticed a three-foot long gopher snake slithering about on the ground directly underneath the bird hole. He, too, knew that baby starlings were up there, and he had a very snakely hunch that they would be most enjoyable consumables. I watched him for a while as he searched for some way to get to that nest. It was hopeless. There was no way to climb up a sheer brick wall. He needed some help.

A light bulb went off. A light bulb that, within 15 minutes, earned a place for me near the top of the avian shit list. Then again, I’m guessing I racked up some serious bonus points in Reptile World.

There was a ladder nearby. Hmmm. I leaned it up under the hole, grabbed a lawn chair and a beer, and sat back to watch my personal Discovery Channel in action.

I didn’t have to wait long. Within seconds, ole Gofe was climbing skillfully up the rungs with absolutely no sweat. About halfway up, I realized _ this was curtains for the starlings. Death was fast approaching. I suddenly felt bad for them. I was also frozen by grim fascination with the whole scene. The snake’s head got up to the top rung, then up to the hole, and then, without hesitation, that nasty mutha dove in.

Sorry, starlings.

There was a thump. One thump. That was it. Three days later, that snake was still up there. I guess beaks take a while to digest.

Starlings, I owe you one. The next one of your kind that shows up at the hole, you get a no-hassle, snake-free guarantee.