As the speaker of the parenting lecture elaborated on the destructive behavior of starling birds, she dissuaded us parents from being like them. Starlings, particularly the European Starling, are an invasive species known to exhibit aggressive behavior towards other bird species.
The parenting expert was encouraging us to find ways to build community with and offer support to other parents who may be going through a tough time with their teen. In other words, we should be a source of help instead of harm.
Intrigued by what she called the ‘starling effect,’ I wanted to know why a bird would naturally exhibit such aggressive behavior. Because truthfully, while I intend and strive to never be a starling, I have been on the receiving end of starling-like behavior. I wanted to know what motivates the starling to behave so aggressively and destructively.
I learned that starlings are cavity-nesting birds, meaning they often nest in holes or cavities in trees or buildings. Competition for limited nesting sites can be intense, especially in areas with high starling populations. As such, starlings may evict or destroy the nests of other birds, such as native songbirds, to claim these desirable nesting locations. Starlings can be territorial, defending their chosen nesting location aggressively, even if it means displacing other birds. One way starlings assert their dominance is by acquiring nesting material, such as twigs, feathers, and grass from the nests of native birds. Starlings then repurpose these materials for their own nests.
It seems to me that starlings live in a perpetual state of scarcity. They desire what others have and are defensive, so they displace and destroy. Yikes! Likewise, life is filled with people much like the starlings that seem poised to kill and destroy our purpose. And, much like the starlings that disrupt the peaceful nests of native songbirds, life is full of adversity that can steal our peace. Just as starlings can seem determined to harm and hinder the peace and purpose of other creatures, we often encounter people and circumstances that appear to threaten our sense of peace and purpose.
If you haven’t experienced a starling in your life, you are fortunate. I’ve encountered plenty: a co-worker who coveted the favor I had with the CEO; a fellow-parishioner who believed that she, not I, should be married to my husband; a close friend who believed she deserved to have more love and material possessions than I; content creators who stole words (direct quotes) right from my mouth and published them on their website as their own; a well-resourced leader who credited himself for my idea; a family member who gaslit me when I addressed their toxic behavior. This kind of scarcity-motivated behavior is crushing.
Fortunately, regarding the destructive nature of the starling, conservation efforts employ strategies to mitigate their negative effects to protect other birds, and thus the ecosystem.
The good news is that we, too can recover from devastation and return to our peace and purpose.
Psalm 46:1 reminds us that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. In times of adversity, we can trust that God is with us, providing the strength we need to overcome life’s starlings.
Here are a few key lessons we can learn from the starling effect and Psalm 46:1:
First, we can seek refuge. When life’s starlings threaten our peace, we can find refuge in God’s presence. Our faith and inner strength are rooted in our relationship with Him. Our Source can help us weather the storms of adversity.
Second, just as native songbirds rebuild their nests after starling attacks, we too can rebuild our lives and dreams when faced with setbacks. Each obstacle is an opportunity for growth and resilience.
And finally, in our pursuit of peace and purpose, we must also remember to show compassion to the starlings in our lives who are most likely facing their own challenges. Just as starlings can disrupt the nests of native birds, our reactions to adversity can impact those around us.
As the parenting expert advised, may we never be starlings. And as we navigate the starlings that unfortunately come our way, may we find solace in knowing that, like the native songbirds, we possess the inner strength to persevere.
Let us seek refuge in God’s presence, knowing that He is our ever-present help in times of trouble. We can overcome life’s starlings and return to the peace and purpose we have in Christ.