CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Mara Suttle, a Clarksburg resident, is the proud owner of Clarice Starling, a common type of bird with a unique repertoire of songs.
Suttle said Clarice can sing a few different songs, like the “Charge!” melody, “Hedwig’s Theme,” and “West Virginia Fight Song,” with varying degrees of success.
Even though Clarice can’t sing the WVU Fight Song very well, Suttle said she is still a big football fan and gets excited and “chatty” whenever a game comes on.
Clarice singing in January 2023 (Harry Potter theme for reference)
Clarice is a European Starling, a type of bird you have almost certainly seen or heard before. They can often be seen flying in large flocks that swirl around in beautiful shapes. However, one thing you may not know is that this species of bird is actually an invasive species that was introduced to America over 100 years ago.
As the story goes, a man named Eugene Schieffelin, who was a fan of Shakespeare, wanted to introduce every species of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works to America. Starlings were mentioned once by the character Hotspur in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” so they made the cut, and about 100 starlings were released in New York City’s Central Park.
However, it’s unknown if the birds really were introduced because of Schieffelin’s love of Shakespeare, or because of a larger acclimatization movement. One 2021 research article on starlings’ true start in North America says that Shakespeare’s influence on Schieffelin and his overall contribution to the starling population has been greatly exaggerated over the years.
Clarice singing in November 2022
In May 2022, Mara Suttle noticed birds flying in and out of a cavity on the side of her house. One day she found a baby bird on the ground but wasn’t able to get it back into the nest. Suttle took the bird inside in a shoebox and tried to find out if she could take her to a local shelter, but Suttle says that because they’re an invasive species, no one would take it.
However, during her research, Mara started learning a lot about the birds, enough to make her consider keeping it instead.
“I had no idea they could talk, I had no idea that they were as beautiful as they are up close. From a distance they just look like little brown birds, but up close they have all these iridescent feathers, they’ve got these beautiful stars, and they make really amazing pets,” Suttle said in an interview with 12 News.
Suttle said there are also many misconceptions about these birds, one of them is that starlings eat the seeds out of bird feeders which leaves less for native species. Suttle says this is actually not true, and the birds live on a high protein diet of mostly insects. This fact may give more credit to why these birds were originally introduced to America, as a measure to help control pests in crop fields.
Suttle said there is basically an entire subculture of people who keep these birds as pets, as well as rescue groups who will find homes for displaced starlings. Because these birds can’t be found in pet stores (because of the whole invasive species thing), this is often the only way for people to get a European Starling as a pet. They are also incredibly long-lived and can get as many as 25 years old in captivity.
An up-close view of Clarice and her beautiful feathers
“She’s fun. She’s super fun, like, I’ve never had a bird that’s been so interactive with myself like she is. She’s got to be in my business at all times, she’s just really funny and very entertaining,” Suttle said.
Suttle found a video of one of these birds singing the Harry Potter theme song and sent it to a coworker who she knew was a massive Harry Potter fan. The coworker then asked Suttle if she could teach it to her bird as well. Suttle is also a fan of Harry Potter, so she started playing the song on repeat using TikTok, and whistled it herself from time to time to try and imprint the tune onto Clarice.
“My big thing is, be a little open-minded. Educate yourself a little bit. These birds are not the monster that they’re made out to be. The ancient Romans used to keep them as pets all the time, and they make fabulous pets, they really do.”
If you want to see more of Clarice Starling and her avian antics, you can follow Mara Suttle on TikTok.