Curse of the Starling

If I became governor of Hell I would reserve a special room for Eugene Schieffelin and his minions in the North American Acclimatization Society, the idiots who thought it would be nice for all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works to be represented in America. In the 1890’s he released around 60 starlings into Central Park. Because of one single line in Henry IV, an estimated 200 million of the aggressive little bastards currently occupy North America, wreaking havoc on native bird populations.

Why such antipathy for these morons? Why not put in Etienne Trouvelot (who introduced Gypsy Moths) or whoever shipped the wood that contained the fungus that annihilated the American Chestnut?  Because Schiefflin and his cronies went out of their way to perpetrate their crime, and for a silly reason.

Humans have been bringing pests from one land to another since they first commenced to roam, and many native species and a few ecosystems have paid the price.  Many are completely unintentional, from fire ants to zebra mussels.  Some seemed like a good idea at the time, like kudzu or cogon grass.  But Schieffelin’s crowd were whimsically Anglophilic.

Dreamers are fine.  But sometimes their dreams can become nightmares.

2 thoughts on “Curse of the Starling”

  1. I think you’re being a little unfair to starling. I’ve long been an observer of urban ecology. It brings me joy to see the way that newly arrived species slowly adapt to life in an urban environment. A case in point would be sharp-shinned hawks, which I first noted in the center of the city where I live about 20 years ago. They are now common and thoroughly adapted.

    About a decade ago I noticed the first chipmunks here. They still have a ways to go in adapting, but they are making strides. Just a few years ago, the first red squirrels moved in. They’re still rather uncommon, but I suspect it won’t be long and they will be all over the place. Of course, the grey squirrel is the master of urban living. It’s fascinating to see the grace with which they occupy this niche.

    The starling and English sparrow, those two pesky imports, are also masters of urban ecology. I like both of them. They are completely welcome in my neighborhood, (as are every kind of person). In the urban ecology, we are all equally aliens and all equally belong, from humans to starlings to rats. We’re all adapting to this most dynamic environment.

    A lot of people seem to think that there is some correct way for nature to be. But that’s just a prejudice. Nature is change, always has been, always will be. Humans cling and try to keep things from changing. We create myths of aboriginal purity and balance, but there have always been new things moving in and there have always been extinctions.

    Evolution is cruel but out of that cruelty something of great beauty is formed. But that beauty is dynamic, not static. Bemoaning the fact that an alien species is causing damage to our environment is, in my opinion, a lack of appreciation for the creative dynamic that is nature. Every act of creation within nature is also an act of destruction, and every act of destruction an act of creation. Urban ecology demonstrates this wonderfully. Starlings demonstrate it wonderfully.


    1. I see your side of it, but I dispute the point. Yes, there is change and the ebb and flow of species. But consider two things:

      -A stable biome with most niches filled is a wonderful thing, especially when components of that biome are endemic. An invading species may adeptly outcompete native species; should we celebrate the invader for lowering the species richness of that locale? Do you cheer on the rats and cats on Pacific islands as they drive unique species to extinction?
      -The starling issue is one of responsibility. This is not a natural influx of some birds blown across the sea or crossing a land bridge. People put them where they’d never been before, deliberately and with no thought of the consequences. And the starling issue pales compared to, say, rabbits, rodents, foxes and cats in Australia. In the longleaf-wiregrass ecosystem I deal with, one of the world’s richer grassland communities, we would lose most of the species if we didn’t try to control invasive plants (particularly cogongrass). Cogongrass would be sitting pretty, but the earth would be poorer for the loss.

      No, I don’t think the takeover of starlings, house sparrows, et al. throughout the Americas is a wonderful thing at all.

      All that being said, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate it.


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