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Houseguests of a feathered kind: What’s a nature lover to do?

CELIA KRAMPIEN/The Globe and Mail

I've finally come to terms with our house guests. I don't exactly look forward to their arrival every spring, but when I hear them fluttering about in the bathroom fan vent, I no longer cringe.

"Ah, my starlings have arrived," I say to myself. "They're getting an early start this year."

The first time they came was shortly after we moved from Toronto into a new development in a small town. In typical small-town fashion, no less than four of my neighbours informed me at different times that they'd noticed birds making a nest in our upstairs unused dryer vent. It was suggested that we get some chicken wire to cover up the vent, or nail it shut since it wasn't being used anyway. But I was worried the starlings may have already laid their eggs.

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I would never engage in a "when does life begin" debate regarding starlings, but I'd had some experience with murdering potential baby birds when I was in college, and never really got over it.

Living in an apartment building, I had agreed to cat-sit for a couple of months. Since the weather was nice, I'd put the litter box on the balcony. The cat eventually left, but the litter box remained. A month later, I discovered a pigeon had made her nest in it.

My first thought was, "Gross!" and I took away the box – nest, eggs and all – and threw it in the trash. When Mother Pigeon arrived the next day, and the next, and the next for what seemed an entire month, searching desperately for her babies, I knew how it felt to be a murderer. I would never again do something so thoughtless, so horrendous.

The starling eggs could stay.

When it became clear, from the chirping and fluttering, that the babies had arrived, blocking up the vent was out of the question. I would wait until the babies had grown up and flown the coop – or vent – before dealing with the issue.

It isn't as if starlings are the nicest birds – their Latin name is Sturnus vulgaris. I don't know anything about how stern or vulgar they are, but it certainly doesn't sound very good. They aren't as pretty as sparrows or as revered as robins, and I doubt anyone has ever written a song about a starling, unless Bye Bye Blackbird counts.

I've found websites dedicated to the elimination of starlings and their ilk that list all the horrible things these birds can do – such as damage buildings with their droppings, spread diseases, destroy crops.

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I certainly didn't want the starlings in that dryer vent. Since the end of the dryer's hose wasn't hooked up to anything, and since I knew nothing of the internal workings of vents, I feared that baby starlings would come tumbling down into our linen closet.

When autumn arrived and I was certain the birds had gone, I hired someone to blow out the remains of the nest, feathers and all, and block up the vent from the outside. No more starlings, I thought.

Of course I was wrong. Early the next spring, there they were again. Upon discovering the blocked vent, they had simply moved over to the bathroom fan vent a few feet away.

I had the same plan in mind. I would wait until the babies had flown away, then have the vent blown out and put up some netting. But that year, autumn kind of snuck up on me, then it snowed quite early, I didn't get around to hiring anybody, and before I knew it March had arrived, and so had the starlings, busily augmenting last year's nest.

We got used to hearing the frenzied chirping and fluttering as we got ready in the mornings. I admired the stamina of the parents, constantly flying in and out, bringing bits of grass or hay, building blocks for a solid starling home, I was sure. I started to think we were doing quite a service to this lucky family, sponsoring them, so to speak, almost like Habitat for Humanity for birds.

I'm not worried about them coming in through the vent, and I can't see that they're causing any real damage. I'll have to have the vent cleaned out this autumn for sure. Who knows what kind of detritus the family has been leaving behind? They're dedicated parents, certainly, but I really can't speak to their housekeeping skills.

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I know I should get the vent blocked up as well, but I'll admit I don't want to. While soaking in the tub, I've become accustomed to seeing them at the window, hearing the excitement of the babies when the parents arrive with tasty worms or grubs from our lawn. I wonder what they think when they hear us singing in the shower, or if they like it when we turn on the fan and they feel the movement of the air around them.

I know I should make more effort to be rid of them, what with all the diseases they supposedly spread, but I have a hard time taking such warnings seriously. (I grew up in an old farmhouse and our resident snakes and bats never caused us any harm, other than a scare or two in the middle of the night.)

Still, come the fall, I'll make sure the vent gets cleaned out and closed up, and I'll get ready to say a final Bye Bye Blackbird. Until then, I insist on enjoying a little bit of nature from the comfort of my own home.

Hayley Linfield lives in Goderich, Ont.

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