Starling Car Wash
Animal Stories from

Change is in the Air!
[Not original title--it came from cyberspace too!]

A Bird Story from Cyberspace sent our way by Glenn Barlow
who received it from an unknown source, and
submitted to all-creatures by Connie Young - 13 Jul 2002
January 2012

Bill owns a company that manufactures and installs car wash systems.  Magic Wand Car Wash Systems just in case you want to buy one.  Bill's company installed a car wash system in Frederick, Md. for a gentleman.

Now understand that these are a complete system including the money changer and money taking machines.

The problem started when the new owner complained to Bill that he was losing significant amounts of money from his coin machines each week. He went as far as to accuse Bill's employees of having a key to the boxes and ripping him off. Bill just couldn't believe that his people would do that. So they set up a [photo] trap for the thief.

Well, they caught the thief in the act! Scroll down to see the thief.


The bird had to go down in the machine and back up to get to the money!


That's three quarters he has in his mouth! (Below)


Another amazing thing Bill told us is that it was not one bird; there were several working together.


Once they identified the thief, they found over $4000 in quarters on the roof of the car wash and more under a nearby tree.


Editor Note:  This is not a story of a gang of criminal starlings, but a story of  curiosity about some birds and their attraction to shiny objects.  (We have heard of ravens, crows, and an unknown tropical bird taking and collecting shiny objects, too.) 

We surmise that a starling was attracted to the glint of the sun on a quarter that a person was putting into the machine, or when taking out his or her change.  Seeing the place where the shiny objects "appeared", the starling went to investigate, and discovered that he (males seem to do this to attract a female) could remove the quarter and take it back to his nest or courting place.

Not wanting to be out-romanced, other starlings learned from the original "inventive" fellow how to get "their own" quarters, which shows the intelligence and learning ability of birds.

Feather Forestwalker sent us the following explanation:

Starlings will clear out a chosen nest cavity before attempting to attract a mate through song and wing-waving. This is a male starling in the photo (noted by the blue base at the beak - a female's would be pink, no kidding), and when he is finished clearing a cavity he will sit and sing and wing-wave until a female is attracted. Unfortunately for this male starling, his efforts at clearing his chosen cavity were thwarted by all the customers at the car wash. :) Poor birdie. He's not a relative of the crow, magpie, jay or raven and is therefore not as attracted to colorful or shiny objects (as even the Australian Bower birds are), but instead, had found what he thought was the "perfect" nest cavity in which to raise a family. He just kept clearing it out every day and if the folks who'd caught him on camera had pointed their camera instead at a high point nearby during his "intermissions," they would have seen him sitting there singing and wing-waving. . .until the next round of "debris removal".

Philip Veerman (Canberra, Australia) sent this explanation:

I am an ornithologist of 50 years experience from Australia. I have been sent this story and so I am writing an explanation of what really is happening here. I did a Google search and found you maybe original site. I first saw this story and pictures several years ago. It is indeed an odd one. From our point of view it is hard to think of why a Starling (or any bird) would particularly like to use coins. You would think they must be desperate to find proper nesting material. But no, that clearly is not what is happening here. Note the mention of “they found over $4,000 in quarters on the roof of the car wash and more under a nearby tree”. The Starlings are not collecting the coins, they are not taking them to build a nest, they are not taking them to anywhere important. They are simply taking the coins to remove them. That is the point.

Always a much better idea is to see such mysteries from the point of view of the animal doing anything. Once you take that logic, the story is very simple. That is, to a Common Starling that coin shute appears to be great entrance to a good nesting spot (like a tree hollow or a spout in the guttering of a roof), that part is totally obvious, though in this case misguided.

What I believe they are actually doing is removing coins from the box behind the chute, to clear a space in which to make a nest in the box behind, which they believe would be a secure and safe box of the right size to build their nest of grass and whatever rubbish they can find. Combined with that, they no doubt see coins as an odd shaped egg from another bird trying to take over their nest site, that they wish to remove, which is normal thing for them to do. Birds do not understand that people keep inserting coins, and having the coins come in is frustrating to the starlings that are simply trying to have an undisturbed nest site and remove clutter and competition. See, it’s easy.

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