There she was – laid out like a trophy on the back lawn. First I thought it was a Tui, my favourite bird. Ashamedly, I was relieved to find it was just a starling.

Just a Starling – didn’t it have just as much a right to live, free from urban predators? I knew immediately who the culprit was – ‘Daisy’, our over-fed house cat. The self-satisfied – ‘what me?’ – look on her face was more than sufficient to establish guilt.  Still, I couldn’t bring myself to mourn. Why the lack of compassion? An episode from 40 years ago may provide a clue.

At the time I was living in a farm-worker’s cottage on my cousin’s sheep farm, at Colyton near Feilding. The cottage was basic, but fine for my rather austere life as a bachelor.

The lack of a shower was disappointing. However, the modest bath would suffice.It was my first experience of living on an ongoing basis without a reticulated water supply. At least there was a large water tank.

After some weeks, I noticed that the water had a bit of an odour. When I reluctantly brought it to my cousin’s attention, he was less than sympathetic.

‘Typical … townie. That’s just tank water. It hasn’t got all those nasty chemicals you townies drink.’Feeling a bit of a sook I quickly changed the subject.

During the next week or so, the odour got steadily worse. When I emerged from the bath, I could smell it all over me.  Finally, in desperation, I contacted my cousin. Groaning audibly, he reluctantly agreed to check the tank.

When I arrived home that night, I was taken aback to discover the driveway awash with water. Pinned to my door was a handwritten note – ‘Call me urgently. Don’t run the taps.’ With a guilty smile on his face, he sat me down. ‘You’re right’ cousin.’

‘Right about what?’, I asked. I could feel myself getting anxious about what he was about to say.

‘When we drained the tank, we found the remains of a family of starlings. Apparently, they’d nested in there, and got trapped, somehow. Sorry about that.’

I remember feeling distinctly unclean. Not only had I been bathing in the remains of the starlings, I’d been drinking their contaminated water, albeit boiled. Since then I’ve always had a less than affectionate relationship with starlings. Not that I was about to tell ‘Daisy’ that.

In recent months, she’d managed – Houdini-like – to remove no fewer than 3 collars, complete with bells. Her face said it all. ‘How dare you try to restrict my freedom of action’.

‘You naughty cat, you. Stick to cat fights with your fellow ‘natural-born killers”!

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Tim McBride

Human rights author and commentator