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A cheer for the starlings
Random Thoughts, November 24
Random Thoughts by Wendell Smith

MUSCODA - The changing of the seasons continues so the natural world is changing, including the birds. A couple of weeks ago, early in the morning, I noticed a “flock” of small black birds had taken up residence in a neighbor’s leafless tree. It looked as though there might be 30 or 40 birds perched there.

Suddenly, flying in a tight group, they left the tree and landed in our yard. It happened quickly, seemingly with little effort on the part of the birds. It was almost as though they somehow flowed from one place to another.

In the same manner, the flock soon left our yard to perch in a different nearby tree, flying in the same smooth manner. Then they left, perhaps for another yard.

It was a cool morning that was accompanied by a brisk wind from the north. I wondered whether the yard birds had arrived, riding the north tailwind to get a welcome boost on a trip south.

That may have been a possibility. The same morning my sources from the local swamp told me there was a variety of ducks flying locally, including canvasback and ringbill ducks, both divers, plus gadwall, mallards, blue-wing teal and widgeon among the puddle ducks. It’s unusual to find that duck assortment in the local river-bottoms.

The birds in my yard were probably starlings. They are not one of the poster birds of the feathered world. However, they do have a long history. According to “The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds” starlings are an ancient bird, dating back centuries.”

In this country they date back to 100 starlings from Europe that were released in 1890 in Central Park in New York City and “spread over most of the continent. They can become a problem, with thousands of birds causing much noise.”

The Audubon book also notes, “There has been much debate regarding the economic value of starlings, but their consumption of insects seems to tip the balance in their favor.”

That statement makes me wonder whether starlings have something to do the fact, at least at our house, we have seen very few boxelder bugs clinging to the south side of our house this fall.

The same can be said for Asian beetles. I have only squashed two of them. If I can thank starlings for the lack of autumn bugs I cast my vote in their favor.

The price we pay

With Thanksgiving and Christmas meal planning in progress there has considerable media discussion regarding the current rising price of food.

That makes it rather entertaining to look back at what groceries cost during years-gone-by. For example, in 1965 Walsh’s Store in Muscoda was having a pre-holiday sale on a wide range of items, including groceries. Turkeys were priced at 29 cents a pound and hamburger cost 39 cents a pound and you could buy five loaves of bread for $1.00. If you had a big family to feed, a whole quarter of beef was priced at 36 cents a pound.

Those prices may make us jealous of our parents and think they had it easy. But then, a fellow printer who was also looking at the old ad, said, “That was about the time I was making 75 cents an hour.” Enough said!