Mozart's Starling


By Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Formats and Prices




$16.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 4, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

On May 27th, 1784, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart met a flirtatious little starling in a Viennese shop who sang an improvised version of the theme from his Piano Concerto no. 17 in G major. Sensing a kindred spirit in the plucky young bird, Mozart bought him and took him home to be a family pet. For three years, the starling lived with Mozart, influencing his work and serving as his companion, distraction, consolation, and muse.

Two centuries later, starlings are reviled by even the most compassionate conservationists. A nonnative, invasive species, they invade sensitive habitats, outcompete local birds for nest sites and food, and decimate crops. A seasoned birder and naturalist, Lyanda Lynn Haupt is well versed in the difficult and often strained relationships these birds have with other species and the environment. But after rescuing a baby starling of her own, Haupt found herself enchanted by the same intelligence and playful spirit that had so charmed her favorite composer.

In Mozart’s Starling, Haupt explores the unlikely and remarkable bond between one of history’s most cherished composers and one of earth’s most common birds. The intertwined stories of Mozart’s beloved pet and Haupt’s own starling provide an unexpected window into human-animal friendships, music, the secret world of starlings, and the nature of creative inspiration. A blend of natural history, biography, and memoir, Mozart’s Starling is a tour de force that awakens a surprising new awareness of our place in the world.




This book would have taken me half as long to write if it were not for one fact: most of it was composed with a starling perched on my shoulder. Or at least in the vicinity of my shoulder. Sometimes she was standing on top of my head. Sometimes she was nudging the tips of my fingers as they attempted to tap the computer keys. Sometimes she was defoliating the Post-it notes from books where I had carefully placed them to mark passages essential to the chapter I was working on—she would stand there in a cloud of tiny pink and yellow papers with an expression on her intelligent face that I could only read as pleased. She pooped on my screen. She pooped in my hair. Sometimes she would watch, with me, the chickadees that came to my window feeder to nibble the sunflower seeds I left for them. Sometimes she would look me in the eye and say, Hi, honey! Clear as day. "Hi, Carmen," I would whisper back to her. Sometimes, tired of all these things and seemingly unable to come up with a new way to entertain herself or pester me, she would stand close to my neck, tunnel beneath my hair, and nestle down, covering her warm little feet with her soft breast feathers, so close to my ear that I could hear her heartbeat. She would close her eyes and fall into a light bird sleep.

It sounds like a sweet scene, but there is a conflict at its center. I am a nature writer, a birdwatcher, and a committed wildlife advocate, so the fact that I have lovingly raised a European starling in my living room is something of a confession. In conservation circles, starlings are easily the most despised birds in all of North America, and with good reason. They are a ubiquitous, nonnative, invasive species that feasts insatiably upon agricultural crops, invades sensitive habitats, outcompetes native birds for food and nest sites, and creates way too much poop. Millions of starlings have spread across the continent since they were introduced from England into New York's Central Park one hundred and thirty years ago.

An adult starling is about eight and a half inches from tip to tail, a fair bit larger than a sparrow but still smaller than a robin, with iridescent black feathers and a long, sharp, pointed bill. Just over a hundred and fifty years before the first starlings appeared in Central Park, the Swedish botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus had placed the species within his emerging avian taxonomy and christened it with the Latinized name we still use: Sturnus vulgaris. Sturnus for "star," referring to the shape of the bird in flight, with its pointed wings, bill, and tail; and vulgaris, not for "vulgar," as starling detractors like to assume, but for "common."* When Linnaeus named the bird, it was simply part of the European landscape and had not spread across the waters. There was no controversy surrounding the species; it was just a pretty bird. Starlings are now one of the most pervasive birds in North America, and there are so many that no one can count them; estimates run to about two hundred million. Ecologically, their presence here lies on a scale somewhere between highly unfortunate and utterly disastrous.

In The Birdist's Rules of Birding, a National Audubon Society blog by environmental journalist Nicholas Lund, one of the primary rules is actually "It's Okay to Hate Starlings." Sometimes beginning birders in the first flush of bird-love believe that it is a requirement of their newfound vocation to be enamored of all feathered creatures. But as we learn more, writes Lund, our relationships with various species become more nuanced. Some species are universally loved; who wouldn't feel happy in the presence of a cheerful black-capped chickadee? But once we become more informed about starlings, we begin to feel an inner dissonance. Lund tells birders who are first experiencing such confusion not to feel guilty: "It's okay to hate certain species… healthy, even. I suggest you start with European Starlings." In addition to the issues with starlings I've listed, Lund adds: "They're loud and annoying, and they're everywhere."

It's true; among those who know a little about North American birds, starlings are not just disliked, they're outright hated. In The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, birder and journalist Noah Strycker (famous for seeing more species of birds on earth in one year than anyone, ever) writes, "If you Google 'America's most hated bird,' all of the top results refer to starlings. Such universal agreement is rare in matters of opinion, but on this everyone seems to concur: Starlings are rats with wings." Birders typically keep lists of the species they see on a field trip, but many don't even include the invasive starling on their tallies. Ornithological writer and blogger Chris Petrak does list them, not because he is glad to spot them but because he is "interested in those rare occasions when I can go almost an entire day without seeing a starling, and those even rarer days when I don't see one at all." The joy of a starling-less list. He goes on to back up Strycker: "Bird lover or not, the starling is not a loved bird. In fact, it is without a doubt the most hated bird in America."

Common, invasive, aggressive, reviled. Starlings don't just lie beneath our notice, the sentiment runs, they are actually undeserving of our notice. By rights, I know I should agree with the many guests in my home who learn that a starling lives here and pronounce, "Oh, I am a bird-lover, so I hate starlings." I do detest the presence of the species in North America. But this bird on my shoulder? Mischievous, clever, disorderly, pestering, sparkling, sleepy? Yes, I confess, I couldn't be more fond of her.

People always ask how I get the ideas for my books; I think all authors hear this question. And, at least for me, there is only one answer: You can't think up an idea. Instead, an idea flies into your brain—unbidden, careening, and wild, like a bird out of the ether. And though there is a measure of chance, luck, and grace involved, for the most part ideas don't rise from actual ether; instead, they spring from the metaphoric opposite—from the rich soil that has been prepared, with and without our knowledge, by the whole of our lives: what we do, what we know, what we see, what we dream, what we fear, what we love.

For much of my life I have studied birds. I have watched them, sketched them, scribbled notes about their habits and habitats. I have spent hundreds of hours immersed in ornithological texts and journals. I worked for a time as a raptor rehabilitator, and once I had done that, it seemed that all the injured birds within a fifty-mile radius had a way of finding me. People discovered wounded birds in their backyards and brought them to me in small boxes. A flopping, broken-legged gull turned up on my doorstep. One day while I was out for a walk, a diseased robin fell from a tree and landed on the sidewalk literally at my feet. And though I left rehab behind long ago, I have too often found myself raising orphaned chicks of various species, or binding the wings of injured birds, or making sick birds comfortable as they pass into the next world. So it makes sense that my thoughts, my life, and my work have been inspired by birds. But not by starlings. Because my subjects included everyday nature and urban wildlife, I had written about starlings out of necessity, but not out of true inspiration. Starlings, I felt, deserved no such esteem.

And as a writer, of course, I live by inspiration. I watch it come and go; when it's missing, I pray for its reappearance. I light a candle and put it in my window hoping that this little ritual might help inspiration find its way back to me, like a lover lost in a snowstorm. The word itself is beautiful. Inspire is from the Latin meaning "to be breathed upon; to be breathed into." Just as I ponder the migrations of birds, I ponder the migrations of inspiration's light breeze. If it's not with me, where is it? Where has it been? Who has it breathed upon while it was away, and when, and how? Over and over again, I have come to terms with the sad truth that inspiration never visits at my convenience, nor in accordance with my sense of timing, nor at the behest of my will. Most of all, the inspiration-wind has no interest whatsoever in what I think I want to write about.

One day a couple of years ago I was gazing out of my study window and noticed a plague of starlings on the grassy parking strip in front of the house.* I was not looking for an idea that day—I had an engaging project on my desk and was just pondering the next sentence, not the next book. I pounded on the window to scare the starlings away, as I often do when they gather in numbers. The other little neighborhood birds find groups of starlings menacing—when starlings descend, the chickadees in my hawthorn tree rush away, as do the bushtits, and even the larger robins. Only the bold crows remain. So I pounded. The starlings flapped and rose halfheartedly, then landed again and returned to their grubbing for worms in the parking-strip grass. I rapped the window harder, and again they lifted. But this time, they turned toward the light and I was dazzled by the glistening iridescence of their breasts. So shimmery, ink black and scattered with pearlescent spots, like snow in sun. Hated birds, lovely birds. In this moment of conflicted beauty, a story I'd heard many times leapt to mind.

Mozart kept a pet starling. I can't even remember where I read that in my ornithological studies—it is one of those arcane little details recorded here and there, usually without substantiation. I repeated it myself in my first book, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds. Later, I was reading Jim Lynch's lovely novel Border Songs and discovered that one of his characters mentioned it. When I asked Lynch where he'd heard about Mozart's starling, he told me, "I read it in your book." Oh, dear! I began to worry that I'd been spreading an apocryphal story, but further research assured me that the tale was true. Mozart discovered the starling in a Vienna pet shop, where the bird had somehow learned to sing the motif from his newest piano concerto. Enchanted, he bought the bird for a few kreuzer and kept it for three years before it died. Just how the starling learned Mozart's motif is a wonderful musico-ornithological mystery. But there is one thing we know for certain: Mozart loved his starling. Recent examination of his work during and after the period he lived with the bird shows that the starling influenced his music and, I believe, at least one of the opera world's favorite characters. The starling was in turn his companion, distraction, consolation, and muse. When his father, Leopold, died, Wolfgang did not travel to Salzburg for the services. When his starling died, two months later, Mozart hosted a formal funeral in his garden and composed a whimsical elegy that proclaimed his affinity with the starling's friendly mischievousness and his sorrow over the bird's loss.

Mozart is only one of many composers and artists throughout the centuries who've had birds as pets. Mozart kept canaries, too, at different times in his life. But the fact that Mozart lived with, and loved, a starling is extraordinary. One of the world's greatest composers chose, as a household companion, what is now one of the world's most hated birds. I have spoken with classical music lovers who are offended at the very notion that Mozart might have been inspired by this invasive species, and birdwatchers are just as indignant. What good could be associated with a starling? Along with our understanding that starlings are common and unwelcome arises an assumption that we humans tend to attach to all things common and unwelcome: that they are also dirty, ugly, disease-ridden, and probably dumb—certainly not proper consorts for genius.

While I was looking out that day at the pearly-snow-breasted starlings, while I was thinking of their despisedness and their loveliness and Mozart in one swirl, I noticed the music pouring from my iPhone Pandora station. It was Mozart's Prague Symphony. Other than being composed by Mozart, this symphony has little to do with the tale of his pet bird (it was written while they lived together, though I didn't know this at the time). But the synchronicity was enough for me. The hair on the back of my neck prickled as I felt a new obsession take root in my psyche. I could not stop wondering over the tangled story of Mozart and his starling and felt that I was being pulled through an unseen gateway as I began to follow the tale's trail, uncovering all that I could from my two-hundred-and-fifty-year remove.

What did Mozart learn from his bird? The juxtaposition of the hated and sublime is fascinating enough. But how did they interact? What was the source of their affinity? And how did the starling come to know Mozart's tune? I dove into research, poring over the academic literature. I took to the streets, making detailed notes on the starlings in my neighborhood. But gaps in my understanding of starling behavior remained and niggled, and within a few weeks I reluctantly realized that to truly understand what it meant for Mozart to live with a starling, I would, like the maestro, have to live with a starling of my own.

I'd raised several starlings while working as a raptor rehabilitator for the Vermont Institute of Natural Science many years ago. Starlings aren't raptors, of course, but people brought us all kinds of birds. It was the official policy of the rehab facility to euthanize any starlings that came through the door rather than lavish scarce resources on them and then release them into the wild to wreak their ecological havoc. Most often the starlings that came to us were babies, orphaned or cat-caught; the people who brought them had no idea about the ecological conflict and usually didn't even know what kind of bird they had. They were just filled with compassion for another creature that needed care and had gone out of their way to act on their feelings as best they could. One little boy, about eight years old, carefully held out a baby starling cradled in a beautiful nest he'd made of grass and tissue. "Can you help him?" he asked with wide, expectant eyes as his mother stood watching behind him. What was I supposed to say? Sure, honey. Give me the bird—I'll wring his scruffy neck for you. It seemed to me that the lessons to be gleaned in terms of respect for life and compassion for other creatures outweighed any slight ecological impact the release of a few individual starlings might have. So I became a renegade rehabber and made a deal with the folks who brought starlings in: I'd tend the chicks on my own time while they were in the precarious nestling phase, then give them back to their young rescuers for final raising and release.

It was fun to have juvenile starlings around the house; they were smart, busy, social, sweet, and made wonderful companions. But that was when I lived in a group house with a bunch of other hippie graduate-student ornithologists; having wild birds roaming around and a little bird poop here and there seemed perfectly normal. I brought all manner of birds home, from hummingbirds to hawks, and even great horned owls, which my housemates made me keep in the laundry room because they smelled of their last meal (skunk). And I'd always said good-bye to these starlings once they were minimally self-sufficient, not after they'd grown into aggressive, adult birds. What would it be like, I thought now, to raise a starling for months, maybe years, in my grown-up household where I had decent furniture, expensive musical instruments, work to accomplish, and guests who would think I was batshit crazy?

It turns out that one little bird was capable of turning my household, and my brain, completely upside down. I thought I was bringing a wild starling into my home as a form of research for this book, but this bird had ideas of her own. Instead of settling dutifully into her role as the subject of my grandiose social-scientific-musical experiment, Carmen turned the tables. She became the teacher, the guide, and I became an unwitting student—or, more accurately, a pilgrim, a wondering journeyer who had no idea what was to come. Following Mozart's starling, and mine, I was led on a crooked, beautiful, and unexpected path that wound through Vienna and Salzburg, the symphony, the opera, ornithological labs, the depths of music theory, and the field of linguistics. It led me to outer space. It led me deep into the spirit of the natural world and our constant wild animal companions. It led me to the understanding that there is more possibility in our relationships with animals—with all the creatures of the earth, not just the traditionally beautiful, or endangered, or loved—than I had ever imagined. And in this potential for relationship there lies our deepest source of creativity, of sustenance, of intelligence, and of inspiration. Before all of this, though, I learned that obtaining a starling, as abundant and legally unprotected as they may be, is not as easy as you'd think. Mozart paid a few coins for his bird in a shop. My route to acquiring a starling housemate was a bit more complicated.



The details of Carmen's coming to live with me are admittedly a bit sketchy—part rescue, part theft. A friend turned informant (who prefers to remain anonymous—I'll call him Phil) knew I was on the lookout for an orphaned starling chick. He worked for the parks department and let me know that the starling nests under the restroom roof at a park near my home were slated for removal (or "sweeping"). I was aware of these nests and had been checking on their occupants' progress—the chirring sounds coming from beneath the eaves told me that the babies had already hatched. When I mentioned this to Phil, he said, "Yeah, well, you know they're just starlings." Park officials do attempt to remove the nests of unprotected pest species before chicks emerge from their eggs, but sometimes the timing doesn't work out, and the nests are removed anyway. It is illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to disturb, or even touch, the nests of most birds, but anyone—government official or private citizen—may with impunity destroy the nests and eggs of starlings and kill the nestlings and adult birds any way he or she likes. As nonnative invasive species, starlings, along with house sparrows and pigeons, have no legal standing or protection.*

When federal or state fish and wildlife departments do work that involves the killing of animals (like the shooting of overpopulous Canada geese or white-tailed deer, or the trapping or shooting of urban coyotes), it is usually accomplished under cover of darkness to prevent protests by well-intentioned animal lovers. Starling nest removal is no different. "It's going down tonight," Phil reported on the starling nest sweep, and I giggled to myself, suddenly feeling like I was part of a bank heist. I thanked Phil and arranged to meet my husband, Tom, at the park after work—I would need his help. While it is legal to pluck a baby starling from its nest, it would likely be misunderstood by any observers, and I didn't want to draw attention. The park was in high use that evening, with thirty little boys running around in soccer cleats as their coach yelled instructions in a lovely Welsh accent. We scoped out the nest that seemed easiest to access and nonchalantly dragged the giant plastic park garbage can into the men's room. Tom climbed on top of it, slipped his long arm between the top of the wall and the eave of the roofline, and stretched toward the chirring sound. "Can't reach," he announced, withdrawing his arm, scraped from the effort. We switched places, thinking my smaller arm might slip through the wooden slats more easily, which it did. I stood on my toes, felt over the matted grassy nest stuffs, and stretched as far as I was able. I could actually feel the warmth radiating from the bodies of the nestlings, but while my arm was thinner than Tom's (muscles, he likes to point out), it was also shorter. I couldn't get any closer to the chicks, and I gained a deeper appreciation for the starling nesting strategy: they choose cavities that are set back far enough to be out of the reach of nest-thieving predators (more often a crow or a raccoon than a human).

"So I guess that's it." Tom shrugged. "We can't get one."

"Uh, you guess wrong," I said, glowering. I took a break for reconnaissance and spotted a little soccer boy headed toward the men's room, so I jumped out the door and leaned against the building, trying not to look suspicious. When the coast was clear, I slipped back inside. "Now get back up on that garbage can and get me a bird," I bossed like a wife in a bad sitcom. Tom sighed and dutifully climbed back up on the can as I held it steady it with all my strength—I kept picturing the can skidding out from under him and Tom dangling from the smelly bathroom ceiling, broken-armed and clutching a starling chick. We had repositioned the can so the lower roof ledge was smooshed right into Tom's armpit. "Hold out your hands," he told me, and into them he dropped the tiniest, ugliest, most unpromising little creature the earth has ever brought forth.

I'd raised dozens of chicks of many different species, from hummingbirds to red-tailed hawks, and of course the several starlings. But until now I'd never seen a baby bird that was actually wheezing. Like all songbird nestlings, this chick was mostly beak, with a big, fleshy orange gape designed to serve as a target for adult birds: Drop food here. When a chick is stimulated by movement and sound, the gaping response is induced. Wanting to make sure this bird possessed some tiny semblance of health, I tickled the bill and chirped like a starling; the little bundle threw back its head, and the bill popped open 180 degrees. Perfect.

This chick was only five or six days old and would require constant care: a steady temperature of 85 degrees until its feathers grew, and feedings every twenty minutes, dawn to dark. I had hoped to rescue a bird that was a few days older, one that was still young enough to tame but already raised into a bit more size and strength by its real bird parents; I wished I could put this one back to cook a little longer. But the nest was doomed, and with the arousal of my maternal instincts inspired by the gaping experiment, I was already starting to bond with this sad little chick—I couldn't bring myself to return it to the nest to be swept away with its ill-fated siblings. I knew I should get another chick to help keep this one the proper temperature and to increase my chances of ending up with one living, healthy starling for my research—baby birds, captive or wild, are unsettlingly ephemeral, subject to respiratory infections and weakened by ectoparasites of the sort I already saw crawling on this chick's bare skin. At this new request, Tom said—firmly—"No fucking way." He couldn't and wouldn't attempt to nab any more chicks. I opened my mouth, then wisely closed it again.

So that was it. This was our starling. I could feel the naked, translucent-skinned belly hot in my palm as the bird slept with its head drooped on my thumb. I tucked the chick carefully into my handy baby-bird incubator—my cleavage—and the three of us went home.

Our sleepy starling chick on the day we brought it home. (Photograph by Tom Furtwangler)

It was at this point that I morphed from "Lyanda the Innocent Citizen Removing a Nonnative Bird from a Public Space" to "Lyanda the Starling Outlaw." As it turns out, you may torture, maim, or murder a starling, but in Washington State, as in many states, you may not lovingly raise a starling as a pet. One of the ostensible reasons given by wildlife officials I spoke with was the prevention of propagation. There are already too many starlings, and people raising them as pets might eventually release the captive birds, making things worse. Something like this happened in the case of the house finch, a native bird with a geographic range that was once limited to the west side of the Rockies. The males have bright red breasts, sing all year, and are easy to keep, which made them marketable pets. In the 1940s, finches were illegally netted along the West Coast and transported east, where they were considered exotic and became popular. When there was an official crackdown on the wild-bird-pet trade, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of finches were released in New York by dealers seeking to avoid charges. The birds quickly acclimatized and eventually spread across the east side of the continent.

In the case of the starling, though, that rationale doesn't hold up. For one thing, the species has already overrun the country; it would take a huge number of released or escaped starlings to effect a noticeable increase in their population. On the contrary, it is far more likely that the removal of just one chick from the outside world could decrease the future starling population by scores, possibly even hundreds, of birds. (Starlings are able to reproduce at nine months old and often raise two broods a year. Say our bird fledged just three young its first breeding season, then those young, and all their future young, fledged three young each year… the numbers scale up quickly.) I'm not suggesting that starlings are a good pet choice for most people, but I do think the current standard makes little sense. In my opinion, if starlings remain legally unprotected, then we ought to be permitted to raise orphaned starlings in our living rooms.

It took just a few minutes to get our new chick from the park bathroom to its new home. I'd already prepared a mix of crushed dry cat food, hard-boiled egg, applesauce, calcium, and avian vitamins, with just the right balance of fat and protein for a baby starling. This I proffered in tiny bites at the end of a wooden stirring stick pilfered from Starbucks. (Baby bird, stirring sticks… my petty-theft rap sheet was growing by the hour.)

Though the bird was a decent eater, it remained sneezy and parasite-ridden. We hesitated to give it a name, not wanting to personalize our relationship and become more attached than necessary to what might be a transitory little life. Besides, we didn't know if it was a male or a female, so picking a name would be tricky.* Tom sometimes called the chick "little buddy," but overall we stuck with "it."


  • "This hard-to-put-down, charming blend of science, biography, and memoir illuminating the little-known story of the composer and his beloved bird is enlivened by the immediacy of Haupt's tales of Carmen, and brimming with starling information, travelogues, and historical details about Mozart's Vienna."—Booklist (Starred Review)

  • "Weaving together cheerful memoir, natural history, and biography, the author celebrates her 'insatiably social' pet starling, Carmen; investigates Mozart's experience with his avian companion... and offers intriguing details about starling behavior."—Kirkus Reviews

  • "Stories of [Carmen's] upbringing interspersed with details about Mozart, his family and career are both delightful and interesting."—Seattle Times

  • "Charming and highly readable."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  • "Mozart's Starling is a delightful, enlightening, breathless flight through the worlds of Carmen and Star, two European starlings who join their human counterparts in exploring life and music and nature, helping to shed light on the connection between humans and birds -- those of us bound to terra firma, and those who are free to soar."—Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain and A Sudden Light

  • "Mozart's Starling sparkles with imagination, emotion, and insight. Common birds, who too many consider vermin, have great gifts to share. Thank you, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, for showing us the delight and magic of a starling."—Sy Montgomery, author of Birdology and The Soul of an Octopus

  • "Lyanda Lynn Haupt raised a starling of her own to see if the tale of Mozart and his starling could be true. Her experience brings the legend of musician and bird into our present world where science rules. Yet even today, the song of the starling, but a minute in length, lies at the very limits of human comprehension. Read the book and you will learn why."—David Rothenberg, author of Why Birds Sing and Survival of the Beautiful

  • "A brave thing it is to write a love-song to starlings, in a conservation culture inclined not only to struggle with exotic species, but to demonize them. But Lyanda Haupt has done just that--not as apologist for wildlings in North America, but as celebrant of an utterly extraordinary, beautiful, and deeply engaging animal in and of itself. In prose as lovely as birdsong and as clear and sharp as the cool air itself, she has given starlings--hers, Mozart's, the whole species--the kind of loving and rigorous Life that every kind of creature deserves but very few get. I thought of Gerald Durrell, Konrad Lorenz, and Jane Goodall, none of whom I loved reading more. The story of Carmen, Star, and their humans is as riveting as a good novel, and I learned as much about Mozart as about birdsong and birdbrains. I enjoyed Mozart's Starling immensely, and I challenge anyone to read it and still treat starlings inhumanely. Lucky is the bird that finds its Papagena."—Robert Michael Pyle, author of Through a Green Lens and Mariposa Road

  • "By raising up her own pet starling, Lyanda Lynn Haupt reveals something that music historians have missed -- how daily life with a bird impacted Mozart during his most productive period. By sharing this delightful tale with the rest of us, she also reveals the unexpected quirks and charms of a species too often dismissed as a pest. Mozart's Starling is pure pleasure."—Thor Hanson, author of The Triumph of Seeds

  • "Haupt's is an informative and entertaining book of a well-versed ornithologist/ naturalist who adopted a five-day old starling chick into the family. Starlings are well known for their vocal ingenuity that had entranced not only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but also biologists and linguists. The bird that had entranced Mozart entranced Haupt as well, and in part for the same reasons. Starlings and humans are both highly social and vocal, providing an opportunity for mutual bonding and cross-species communication. Indeed, there is debate whether Mozart was influenced by his starling or vice versa. Haupt's adventure with the starling that became a companion and bond-mate prompted a classic adventure into the nature of the bird, music, and Mozart's relationships. This highly readable account is a success at several levels, and is bound to become a classic."—Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven and One Wild Bird at a Time

  • "Haupt's book entertainingly entwines two tales: what is both known and surmised about the life of Mozart and his pet starling, and the actual facts-of-life about living with such a creature. Both tales are engaging, and a naïve reader will learn quite a bit, whether Haupt is discussing musical history, avian behavior, or the sometimes unexpected influences they have upon each other. Someone with an already strong love of Mozart and interest in birds will come away with an even deeper appreciation of both."—Irene M. Pepperberg, PhD, research associate, Harvard University, and author of Alex & Me

  • "I've long been a fan of Lyanda Lynn Haupt's writing but in Mozart's Starling she wings it to another level. From the few but beguiling wisps that have come down about the pet starling that Mozart harbored for a couple of years, Haupt soars through a wide-ranging meditation on music, mimicry, language, Viennese manners and mores, avian behavior, perception of time and space, and the skein of spirit that connects humans to the creatures around them, including the much reviled starling. The rescue and rearing of her own pet starling, Carmen, by turns harrowing and hilarious, is a deeply satisfying emotional counterpoint. I came away utterly convinced that Mozart was himself starling-like in his mischievous, quicksilver, sometimes raunchy, sometimes celestial genius. This volume sent me outside with a song in my heart and a glint in my eye as I surveyed the sky for the magic Haupt conjures up on every page."—David Laskin, author of The Children's Blizzard and The Family

  • Praise for Crow Planet

    "A completely charming and informative book on the pleasures of keeping one's eyes open."—David Sedaris

  • "In a lyrical narrative that blends science and conscience, Haupt mourns the encroachments of urbanization, but cherishes the wildness that survives."—Liesl Schillinger, New York Times

  • "With her sensitivity, careful eye and gift for language, Haupt tells her tale beautifully...immersing us in a heady hybrid of science, history, how-to and memoir."—Erika Schickel, Los Angeles Times

  • Praise for The Urban Bestiary

    "An eloquent natural history of urban wildlife, and an insightful rumination on how the human animal has/should/might relate to what Haupt calls the 'new nature'...Many writers have been defining this new nature for at least a decade. And Haupt makes a significant contribution to that conversation."—Boston Globe

  • "The challenge of our time is the movement from rural villages to big cities where nature seems gone. Haupt's brilliant book restores nature in our lives and uplifts that relationship with stories full of wonder, awe and love."—David Suzuki, author of The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature

On Sale
Apr 4, 2017
Page Count
288 pages
Little Brown Spark

Lyanda Lynn Haupt

About the Author

Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a naturalist, ecophilosopher, and author of Mozart’s Starling, The Urban Bestiary, Crow Planet, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent, and Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds. A winner of the Washington State Book Award and the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, she lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter.

Learn more about this author