Starling has starring roles
Buddy Loveheart is more than just a class pet for the children at Hanan Kindergarten.
The young starling is also a teacher, a playmate, a student and a singing star – but only when he wants to be.
He was found on teacher Debbie Bingham's dairy farm in Morven almost a year ago when he was just a tiny pink ball of fuzz, plucked from his nest by magpies and left with a broken shoulder and leg.
Mrs Bingham adopted him and named him with the help of the children.
"He's been wonderful for the kids, helping them with curiosity. We say, 'look how curious Buddy is, look what he discovers by being curious'."
Buddy has learnt to say several phrases, including "morena, morena to you", "hello Buddy, how are you?" and "good night Buddy, it's time to go to bed".
While his tones are impressive, it is his sense of humour that Mrs Bingham really loves.
"He says, 'morena, morena, it's time to go to bed' and he says that all day. We think he's really funny."
Starlings are known for being intelligent and interactive and can learn to talk, sometimes better than parrots.
Every day, the children feed Buddy, give him a bath and let him sit on their arms, shoulders or heads. His menu includes banana, apple, grapes and meat, though he does not always go for the meat.
When it is home time, Mrs Bingham said Buddy talks non-stop.
"As soon as my car wheels start turning, he sings and talks for 45 minutes all the way home."
The noise in the Timaru kindergarten does not faze him; he chirps away happily in his cage, which is hung on hooks placed all around the yard.
Mrs Bingham said Buddy was not allowed to fly around outside the kindergarten too often as there was a cat in the neighbourhood that had spotted him.
Having a pet in the classroom was "essential", she said.
"If you can care for pets, you can care for people. It's a good way to learn empathy."
The kindergarten will hold a celebration for Buddy next month to mark one year since his arrival.
The Timaru Herald