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The Story of Kuro: The World’s Longest Lived Domesticated Starling - P1/2    
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Cheerful viewers, welcome to another exciting episode of Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants, the first in a two part series. “Kuro,” meaning “black” in Japanese, is the name of a wild baby starling that was rescued by Izumi Kyle in June 1981 when she was in the sixth grade. At the time she lived with her parents Keigo and Yoko Iizuka and siblings Ayumi, Megumi, and Nana in Toronto, Canada.

I remember walking by the schoolyard and around this playground, seeing a nest in there not realizing that there was a little bird that would be part of our family for years thereafter nesting there.

The European starling, a small to medium-sized passerine bird, is one of the most abundant garden birds in Europe. Their unique ability to mimic human speech is referenced in William Shakespeare’s play “Henry IV, Part 1.” In a project to introduce to North America every bird ever mentioned in a Shakespeare play, the species was first brought to the United States in 1890.

Strong and highly adaptable, these adorable birds have even spread to Asia and Australia. Kuro lived with the Iizuka family for 19 happy years, nearly four times the average lifespan of a starling! In fact, at age 18 Kuro set a record by being the world’s oldest living domesticated starling. Izumi now shares with us how the story began.

It was a bright and sunny spring day. And I was in the school yard playing with my sisters. And all of a sudden I see that there are some kids teasing this little fledgling, and they had told me that the fledgling had fallen from its nest which was up on that bell. So I said “Please, please, I’d like to take the bird.” And I found a little styrofoam cup and I put little nesting in it and I brought home Kuro, and Kuro barely had any feathers on his head so he was a very, very young starling when I found him many years ago.

Izumi’s family has always been big fans of animals, but no one had any experience in caring for a tender young fledgling! The family named the little one “Kuro” thinking that he was a blackbird.

I brought home Kuro who was just probably less than two weeks old and he was a little ball, a fledgling with little tiny feathers. Immediately after I brought home Kuro, we went to the library. We had no idea what type of species he was, or what to feed him.

I right away brought her into the bathtub to clean. She was never scared of me. That is the first time I made contact with her.

And very quickly we understood that he was a common European starling. And it talks about making sure that starlings are fed around the clock, something that’s high in protein and fat. And so we would put a little bit of food on the end of a chopstick and immediately Kuro would open his mouth and we would feed him probably every half hour on the hour for at least eight hours a day.

He really enjoyed it. He’s so tame and then, he’s great for the kids too. So, the first day started like that.

To everyone’s delight, Kuro fell in love with Izumi’s family too!

Starlings in general, they’re birds that imprint very, very quickly to human beings. So if you find him within a 4, 7 to 14- day time frame, they will look to you as the mother. And so very, very quickly this bird looked up at me and bonded immediately with me and I knew, this bird has to stay with us and this bird is going to be absolutely part of our family.

Under the loving care of Izumi’s family, Kuro grew rapidly and was soon a lively, healthful juvenile starling with shining, beautiful feathers. Kuro also learned his name and would respond with a squeak every time someone called him. And within weeks, Kuro learned how to fly.

He did fly around the house and we would very strategically put newspaper out on landing areas. And the freedom I think gave him a lot of liberation in terms of feeling like he’s not caged and he had the freedom to see whomever and whenever, and that really added I think to the quality of him being a domesticated starling.

The intelligent Kuro established a strong relationship with every member of the family.

They are very clever. They do things that are very mischievous, (they) are very curious animals. He absolutely knew who each one of us was, reacted to our personalities and for example he really loved my father and so my father could, say like “Down Kuro!”, whereas I would try and say “Kuro down!” even in the sternest voice and he would not react to me. He’d be like, “You know what? You’re my sister, not my dad!”

One mystery about Kuro is whether Kuro was male or female. Ayumi now explains more.

English isn’t my parents’ first language. And I know my mom uses “he” and “she” interchangeably. So I think that was part of the confusion. I always saw her as a “she.” Later in life, when we did try to identify her gender, she has mixed reports, because on the one hand, she has brown eyes and that means that it’s a “she.” If she has blue on her beak, it means it’s a “he.”

But she had both. We maybe had a really unusual starling as well. But I think we all so related to her differently. I thought of her as a “she.” I think other people might have thought of her as a “he.” So, we use it interchangeably.

When Kuro was a few months old, it was discovered he could say things like “good bird!”, “pretty bird!”, “kiss”, “Kuro stay!” and many combinations thereof.

She’s coming. Kiss. Good, good.

Yes, good, good.

Good, good.

She totally understands what we are saying.

She would go to the sink and land on the faucet and say "mizu," which means water in Japanese. And you'd turn on the faucet and she'd either have a drink or start having a bath. So she had comprehension of the two languages as well. (Bilingual.)

Kuro loved singing and could whistle many tunes including the William Tell overture and "Pop Goes the Weasel." Here are a few of his recorded performances! Interestingly, he could also copy mechanical sounds!

Starlings, they are a type of bird that can mimic and they don’t have their own song. Robins or other wild birds have their own distinct call, and so in the wild they pick up other song birds’ voices and sounds.

And of course us being humans, naturally Kuro would mimic and pick up on words we would say, whistles, even sounds. I used to have a watch that would go off every hour and would go “deet deet!” And we’d be in the kitchen, all of a sudden I hear “deet deet!” and I look at my watch… “Wait it’s 5:30!” No, it wasn’t my watch going off at 6, it was Kuro in the kitchen imitating that sound.

Being very serious about his music, Kuro would seize any chance to practice his singing!

She loved her voice over any other sound in the household, including my organ playing, which I would dutifully do every week to practice for my lesson. And so she would, as soon as I'd turn on the organ and start playing, would sit right where the music stand was and start listening to what I'm playing but she would also somewhat match the volume of my playing.

So if I was playing a soft ballad, she would sing very sweetly and quietly. And as soon as I start to play a little louder with more force, she would start belting on top of whatever I was playing. So that was one of the things I enjoyed most about her. This would go on for maybe 45 minutes to an hour straight. So she was really dedicated to her singing.

She did that with a hair dryer too. If you were blow drying your hair, she would sit on the other shoulder and she would be singing really loud and as soon as you turned it off, it would catch her by surprise so she would still let out one loud note, and then she would be embarrassed and then she'd start preening. She's like, "I'm cool." Yes, it’d be really funny.

Izumi now shares one interesting anecdote about an interview regarding Kuro with National Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio.

This bird loved to sing. And you could count on Kuro to be singing hours every day. And so when I was interviewed on National CBC Radio about my bird, and during the whole interview process I am telling Michael Enright who hosts "As It Happens," how my bird sings and talks all the time.

And throughout the interview, he's like, "Well, can you make him say something?" And I'm like, "Absolutely," and every time I would put the phone near my bird, the bird would clam up and look at the phone like, “What are you doing?” And so throughout the entire interview, the bird said nothing. And as soon as I hung up, the bird goes and starts talking. So that was definitely memorable.

The adorable Kuro bought much love, laughter and light to the Iizuka family. They all deeply treasured him like a fellow family member. One day, out of curiosity, Kuro flew away from the house when the door was left open a little longer than usual. Having never left home before, what was the result? To find out, please join us tomorrow on Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants for conclusion of the fascinating story of Kuro.

For more information on Kuro the starling, please visit www.StarlingTalk.com/kuro.htm

Thank you for your pleasant company on today’s program. May our spirits forever soar high above like our bird friends.
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