Starling Sturnus vulgaris, Etourneau sansonnet.

1 occurrence.

For a long period the starling has lived on and about human settlements and buildings and this highly gregarious bird is well known to everyone. Also well known is its ability to mimic different sounds ranging from the telephone and the Curlew in Britain to the Oriole in France.

Charles II had a pet starling, no doubt to push this mimetic ability to its limits. This was the fashion at the time as the battle over the specificity of human language was already raging.

A.R. HUMPHREYS, editor of the Arden edition of 1 Henry IV draws our attention to this in his footnotes "Elizabethan texts have many talking starlings: e.g. Florio's Montaigne, II, xii (Tudor Trans., ii. 159) - "We teach Blacke-birds, Starlins, chat"; and Drayton, The Owle (l. 634) - "Like a Starling, that is taught to prate"."

Shakespeare is also concerned with this habit of mimicry, and when Hotspur, angered by the King's refusal to ransom his brother-in-law Mortimer, imagines a comic vengeance for this rebuke, he uses the starling as one would now use the parrot

But I will find him when he lies asleep,

And in his ear I'll holla "Mortimer!"

Nay, I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak

Nothing but "Mortimer", and give it to him

To keep his anger still in motion.

(1 3 219-23)

As often Shakespeare abides by the proverbial law of "birds of a feather flock together" (TILLEY B393) or as he puts it himself "birds of self-same feather" (3H6 3 3 161); most of the "talking birds" are found in 1 Henry IV: 1 starling and 3 parrots (see PARROT).