What A Bloody Starling Can Teach Us

1 Aug 2015

What A Bloody Starling Can Teach Us

Sometimes we need to take a step back to learn

Julie, my sister and I, came home from shopping one day, laden down with grocery bags. Julie suddenly stopped dead and let out a cry of despair.

A horror movie was unfolding

Through the French doors we could see a real life horror movie playing out before our eyes. A baby starling was trying to fly through a narrow slit in the back of one of the white PVC patio chairs. Unfortunately only his head would fit through. starling image


Every time he stopped flapping his wings, his little body would slide down the slit but his head was still stuck. So he’d try to fly again. There was blood and feathers everywhere.

What to do?

We literally dropped all the shopping where we stood, and raced across the room to unlock and open the French doors. Between us we extracted the exhausted and bloodied little starling gently and safely from the chair. He wasn’t in a good state and we didn’t know whether he would survive.

We gave him some ‘rescue remedy’. Then we found a shoe box and, lining it with some warm material, put him in the airing cupboard to recuperate, checking on him every thirty minutes or so.

How does this relate to people?

I was reminded of this scenario when working with a young coaching client. She was intensely focused on a goal she wanted to achieve and she had taken several steps towards its accomplishment. Now though, she complained of feeling blocked. She’d been determined to achieve a certain position in her company. She was single-mindedly pushing ahead towards her goal. But her determination had been misinterpreted by some important people in the organisation.

She was stuck

Not only was she stuck, she was also panicky and in danger of never achieving her goal. Her self-oriented behaviour had also alienated some of her team mates. I related the starling story to her as a metaphor for stepping back to consider some different perspectives, from which she might learn.

An inexperienced starling

Starlings, are bright and intelligent birds. The starling in the story was a fledgling, a baby with limited experience. I can only assume that something had startled him and he’d taken flight, because it is unlikely that an older bird would have made the mistake of flying into a chair. In his panic and focus through the gap in the back of the chair, the fledgling would have seen quite clearly where he wanted to go. Unfortunately only his head would fit through the gap!

No matter how clever birds are – they still can’t fly backwards (with the exception of the hummingbird)!

Humans have more options

As a human being you have an advantage in that you have greater intelligence and can reverse easily! If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels or that you’ve come up against a brick wall, maybe that’s the most appropriate thing to do. Stop, take a step back and think. What can you learn?

Panicking rarely works very well

Get yourself into the right emotional state and sort your head out. You could try the Peripheral Vision Exercise as a way of doing this. By taking a step back, and getting a bigger picture or a wider point of view, you can more clearly see any obstacles blocking your progress. You can formulate ways around them, perhaps getting some help or support.

Get an overview or a new perspective

Take some time and see what other routes there are that will get you to your destination, in one piece and with your important relationships still intact. Notice what other options you have to achieve your outcome.

If you’ve been totally focused on a goal but it seems a long time coming, getting some distance on it can often help. And then you’ll move forward safely and possibly in a slightly different direction.

A miraculous recovery

By next morning the baby starling had made a full recovery and seemed non the worse for his traumatic experience. Julie and I removed all the obstacles from his flight path, i.e. the plastic chairs.

We put him on the patio table so he had a clear view of the landscape. He immediately flew up into a tree in the garden and from there off to a larger tree in the distance.

Want to learn more?