Ace photo by @WashCapsRock
On Saturday, I went to my first Washington Capitals game of the season because of the bet I lost to the Brouwer Rangers (I find it easier to cover games from home). While watching Troy Brouwer point and laugh at me in spandex was something I’ll never forget, the highlight of my day actually didn’t involve humans at all.
During the first period, as I sat in my perch (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in section 402, I noticed something through the visor of my motorcycle helmet: two fat birds frantically flying around Verizon Center looking for somewhere to land. You don’t get to see this kind of stuff on TV.
The birds swooped to and fro. Every few minutes they’d fly towards people in the crowd, making Caps fans scramble and hit the deck. While I focused on their escapades during the third period, I caught myself chanting bird! bird! bird! I also confused one of the birds for the puck after Alex Ovechkin chipped the biscuit into the air towards Jay Beagle. It almost helped me forget about the terrible game I was supposed to be watching. Almost.
Anyways, for whatever reason, the whole situation cracked me up (that’s an egg joke). Now I am filled with questions: How did these birds get into Verizon Center in the first place? Why are they still here now? (The first Verizon Center bird was spotted in December. It was skinny then.) Is Slapshot involved?
And what kind of birds are these?
Lucky for us, my future cousin-in-law Ian Gardner is the biggest bird nerd in the history of bird nerds. He’s currently at Penn State studying for his M.S. in Forest Resources, he has his B.S. in Wildlife Conservation from Juniata College, and he’s been involved in the Pennsylvania birdwatching community for the past 5 years. I sent him some photos of the birds and asked him for the low-down.
That is a European Starling. They are an invasive species first brought to the United States by a Shakespeare enthusiast in the late 1800’s because they were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. After 13 attempts, they finally naturalized to the eastern US and have spread across the continent since. They can survive off of pretty much anything. They are omnivores that eat anything from Verizon Center scraps to seeds, berries, and insects. They are found in urban and agricultural areas and nest in any cavity they can find. And they are legal to hunt/kill so if you want to get rid of them at the Verizon Center you are legally allowed to trap and kill them.
So unfortunately, these starlings are like the bird version of stink bugs, and they will only get more audacious and homely with a diet of popcorn, half eaten pizza crusts, and cotton candy.
But, as silly as it seems, I don’t want the birds to be trapped and released.
I think they give Verizon Center some personality, a certain je ne sais quoi. Like: how funny is this? They love basketball too!
Killing them seems unnecessary. Verizon Center is already bird heaven. After every game, it becomes a bird buffet of discarded Papa Johns crusts and stale nachos.
Plus, imagine how many pixels would be created if a bird lands on Alex Ovechkin’s shoulder as he scores. That would easily be an all-time top 5 human/animal athletic team-up moment. It would be the exact opposite of this.
I hope Ted Leonsis knows what he has here. He’s sitting on a
gold mine nest egg. He shouldn’t let it fly away or whatever. (That’s another bird joke. That makes five.)
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) December 15, 2013
There's a bird trapped in the Verizon Center. We just bonded. What shall we name it? pic.twitter.com/WWbfLEwmsz
— Derek Jory (@NoJoryous) March 14, 2014