• The Good: Natural history, biography, and memoir framed by the story of Mozart’s pet bird and it’s species
  • The Bad: Often flits from topic to topic, with Mozart as more the inspiration than the core
  • The Literary: Favoring primary sources and a personal pilgrimage to Vienna

In 1784, in a little Viennese shop, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart adopted a flirtatious little starling who sang the theme from his Piano Concerto Number 17 in G . Little is known about the subsequent three years Mozart and his family spent with their pet starling, but upon the bird’s death Mozart held a lavish funeral. 

During the research for her book, Lyanda Lynn Haupt rescued starling of her own. As a naturalist and master birder, adopting a pet bird may seem a logical progression, but in the United States, starlings are hated invasive creatures. They gather in great squawking flocks, decimate crops, and fight other birds for food and nesting sites. It is against the law to keep them as pets, and many bird lovers and Parks and Recreation departments alike hunt down adults and nests in droves. Like pigeons, as a species, they have no rights. 

But starlings are bright, vocal, and charming. Unlike many song birds, they learn and mimic new sounds their entire life, which is likely how Mozart’s starling learned a line of his music. Starlings rival parrots in their ability to imitate other birds, musical instruments, and the human voice. Female starlings are also unique nesters and have interesting feeding and exploration habits.

Learning about starlings as a species is surprisingly insightful, especially in relation to our own history as Americans and the ensuing ecological crisis their introduction caused, but getting to know Lyanda’s starling, Carmen, is yet another facet of the story. Carmen becomes a member of Lyanda’s family, as most pets do. She loves music, but favors bluegrass over Mozart. She loves to explore, sometimes getting shut in a cabinet or the fridge, but must be accompanied to Lyanda’s second floor office because she’s scared of the stairs. When she learns a new sound, she makes it over and over again until it’s perfect, seemingly frustrated when she doesn’t get it right, from the coffee grinder to the cat’s meow to her morning greeting, “Hi Carmen!”

I picked this one up on a whim and am pleasantly surprised by it’s breadth. Recommended for anyone who has a passing interest in music or animal behavior!