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Written by Izumi Kyle

Kuro,  painted by Izumi Kyle

I'd like to share with you a story about our pet, Kuro, a wild starling that I found when I was 12 years old. At that time, he was just a small, featherless hatchling that had fallen out of a nest at my primary school. Two children were teasing him, so I took him away from them and brought him home in a styrofoam cup.

We initially thought he was a blackbird, so we named him "Kuro" which means "black" in Japanese. After a quick trip to the library however, we confirmed that Kuro was a baby starling. He was such a hungry little bird. We fed him dog food several times a day. He grew rapidly and was soon a cute, juvenile starling with nice grey-brown feathers. He quickly learned his name and would respond with a squawk every time we called out his name. We also gave him flying lessons in the house and were careful that he didn't fly outside--we didn't ever want to lose our darling starling who had instantly become an important member of our family. Within weeks, he learned how to fly. He soon started adopting more and more human habits such as taking daily baths with my father every morning, joining us at every meal and sleeping on top or under the covers with us for a nap. Our house was his home and our family lived in his cage! As you can imagine, for most of my childhood and adolescence, I often experienced "wet steps" walking on our carpet throughout our house and wore, unknowingly of course, white-stained clothes to school!

When he was a few months old, we were all very delighted to discover that Kuro could mimic words and sounds. He could say "good bird!", "pretty bird!" "Kiss!", "Kuro stay!" and many combinations thereof, as well as whistle many tunes including the William Tell overture and "Pop Goes the Weasel". His songs and voice were remarkably clear; in fact, he could imitate mechanical sounds such as the "beep, beep" of my watch so precisely that whenever I'd hear "beep, beep", I had to look down at my watch to see if it was my watch or him! He really loved to sing and would listen so intently whenever I would whisper or whistle to him. He would also never miss the opportunity of whistling along with my sister whenever she practiced playing the organ.

Kuro listening to my mother play the organ
Kuro listening to my mother play the organ

He would often amaze and surprise visitors with his mimicry talent whenever they came to our house. You could catch him singing day and night, except of course when I needed him to sing or talk....... One day, I was interviewed about my bird on the CBC Canadian radio show, "As It Happens". Michael Enright, the host, had done a show on bird mimicry and had heard about Kuro and our family from an interview with renowned psychologist, Dr. Meredith West. (see Mozart's Starling) I was then called to do a follow-up interview. I knew Kuro would not let me down, as he ALWAYS sings. And in fact, I brought Kuro and the phone for the interview into our bathroom, because Kuro loved to hang out there and sing because he loved the acoustical effect of "singing in the shower".

The interview call came. All was going well. I bragged about how Kuro loves to sing, always sings and how clearly he could mimic songs and words. Michael then asked, "Can you please make Kuro say/sing something?" I then replied, "sure". I brought the phone close to Kuro. As you can imagine, rather than him looking curiously at it as he often does with new objects, he looked at it and looked at me with an expression, "What are you
doing holding this big, plastic object in my face? Get it away from me!" He totally clammed up and did not peep a single sound! I was so embarrassed, as this show was broadcast across the nation. I continued on with the interview trying to keep calm and at the same time, trying to get Kuro to say SOMETHING. Not a word. As Michael was wrapping up the interview thanking me for my time, I was at once frustrated and humored that Kuro had done the "singing frog" trick. I hung up. It was silent in the bathroom--but only for a second as Kuro belted: "Good bird!" and started whistling the William Tell overture......I guess he, like any other person might, had experienced performance anxiety!

Kuro singing

Another memorable moment was when Kuro flew outside during the second year we had him. Our whole family was devastated that he had flown away, but I vowed to find him. I rode my bike screaming, "Kuro! Kuro! Where are you?" There were a million starlings on the front lawns of houses in our Don Mills suburban setting so I started to lose hope of ever finding him. After about an hour and in tears, I came across my neighbor's tree that had a bird preening his feathers. I called out, "Kuro?" The bird didn't fly away so I came closer to the I looked up, there was a starling in the middle of summer with his full winter feathers on (as he was domesticated, he always got his winter/summer coats mixed up!). He was also soaking wet so he had obviously taken a bath somewhere during his short adventure outside! I knew without a doubt, I had found my bird again. I coaxed him down from the tree, left my bike where it was and ran home with him in my hands, crying of joy.

When Kuro was around three years old, we wrote Kuro the Starling as a summer project. My mother had gone to Japan for a few months to tend to her sick mother, leaving our father to temporarily take care of us. We were aged 12-17 years so you can imagine the

Kuro's book -- Kuro The Starling
chaos in our house! We were arguing with each other every day and missed our mother terribly so in an attempt to re-bond the sisters and keep us busy, my father proposed a project to write a story about Kuro. We all agreed and worked over the summer to write a script about our beloved bird. We then submitted the manuscript to various publishers and got accepted by one that was looking to publish a short story as part of a series of readers for grade 3 students for schools in Canada. We were very delighted that a publisher accepted it and also to have such a great memento of our Kuro.

During his earlier years, Kuro slept up above my bed in a makeshift nest basket. We, of course place a box under it to catch all the droppings. Every morning, Kuro would not make a sound but as soon as I would move, he would then go into his singing/whistling repertoire waking everyone up! He would make sure he would visit all our beds to say hello every morning. While there were four sisters, Kuro definitely knew us apart and would react differently towards each sister. He knew me as the sis that could whistle and sing well! He especially loved my father and would hang out with him for hours as he studied at his work desk (he was a very studious professor). Only my father could make Kuro bow to his command. And if he was away on business trips, Kuro would stick to him like glue upon his return and would wait patiently by his bed without whistling and singing until he got up, which was at times in the afternoon!

Kuro loved to be tucked into my dad's Japanese housecoat.

Kuro tucked into her dad's housecoat

Christmastime was always fun with Kuro. He loved to jump on all the presents gathered around the tree and tug at all the shiny ribbons. He also loved to rip up some of the wrapping, so there were many occasions when we knew exactly what we were getting from Santa! Every year, we would buy a little gift for Kuro. I remember one year my sister made little "Kuro" replicas out of clay as his Christmas gift. He helped tear the gift open but when he saw the other "starlings" he was a little scared of them at first--afterall he had never seen "starlings" before!

Kuro pecking at his gift
Kuro pecking at his gift
Kuro checking out Ayumi's play dough replicas of him
Checking out Ayumi's play dough replicas of him

Continue reading Kuro's story here: Kuro, Part Two

The beautiful painting of Kuro at the top of this page was done by Izumi Kyle.
A very special thank you to Izumi for her wonderful stories and photos of Kuro.

*A limited number of Kuro's books are still available by writing to Izumi at:

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