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Bird burglar's tale still flies, online
A decade after Spotsylvania man discovered avian car-wash caper, story continues to circulate on the World Wide Web.

 When Shop & Wash Carwash owner Rob Ridings discovered this starling in 1995, it was moving quarters to make room for a nest.
Courtesy of ROB RIDINGS
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Date published: 11/28/2005


Back in the day, a bird could run a-fowl of the law and folks might soon forget.

That was before the Internet, where tales of misadventure, even among the avian set, are preserved for eternity.

Such is the case with a starling that experienced 15 minutes of shame a decade ago after it was photographed filching shiny quarters from a car-wash vending machine near Spotsylvania Mall.

Rob Ridings, Spotsylvania resident and owner of Shop & Wash Carwash, said he heard from plenty of people back in May 1995 after he caught the bird mid-theft using his 35 mm Minolta.

A few incriminating pictures appeared in The Free Lance-Star and on the news wires before the flap eventually died down.

But accounts of the ornithological offender's exploits are being circulated anew thanks to the World Wide Web.

Ridings' pictures have recently appeared on everything from a Utah bird-watching site to Snopes.com, which investigated the tale as an urban legend.

"They have just exploded," Ridings said of the pictures' popularity. "It's crazy. People have been calling all year long."

The Internet postings don't mention that Ridings' run-in with the starling occurred 10 years ago.

Ridings, who has owned the car wash for 16 years, said he was taking his son to preschool one morning when he pulled into the Shop & Wash and noticed quarters strewn all over his parking lot.

"I thought someone had hit my vending machines, so I checked the Pepsi machine, but the locks were still on," he said.

Ridings scooped up about $20 in quarters that morning, but remained puzzled.

The next day, he said, he noticed a piece of straw sticking out of the change cup of the car wash's self-service vending machine.

He opened the front of the device and discovered some dandelions and the cellophane wrapper from a package of cigarettes stuffed in there.

It dawned on him that his thief might be of the feathered variety. So Ridings, an animal lover, hatched a plan.

The next morning, he trained his camera on that vending machine and, sure enough, he spotted his culprit.

The starling, apparently in need of a birdhouse, would squeeze into the vending machine through the change chute and pop back out again with a quarter or two in its beak.

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