In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge – Victory…
Anyone be needing a pie? I have four and twenty and then some. The story of these birds, mostly the European starling, is a victory for an enterprising German and Wililam Shakespeare himself, if not exactly for modern conservation…
European starlings are a non-native bird species here in the United States. Starlings look like a chunky robin in size and shape. In the winter they are covered with white spots, but turn a sleek, glossy irridescent purple in summer. They are loud, proud and aggressive, often traveling in large flocks with other birds like grackles and blackbirds. My nephew used to call them “Wire Birds” because that’s where he saw them, hanging out on telephone and electric wires.
By and large, these birds are considered a nuisance. They bother people with their constant chatter, obnoxious eating habits (they’ve been known to obliterate fruit and sprouting crops to the tune of $800 million annually) and highly improper pooping habits. They will also out-compete native birds for nests, and attack and destroy the nests of more desirable native birds like the red-headed woodpecker, blue bird or purple martin. The chicken wire that keeps our pheasants in is not small enough to keep the starlings out, so they will infiltrate our pheasant pens. They eat the pheasants’ feed, pose potential disease concerns and generally make a mess of things.
Around here, their mumurations, as groups of starlings are known, can number in the thousands. One day earlier this fall, I disturbed their feasting in a neighbors corn and so many starlings came boiling up from the field it looked like a solid black cloud rising from the depths.
But if a chattering of starlings is a nuisance, the starling, as an individual, is pretty amazing. Both genders can mimic human speech. They can also mimic the “voices” of about 20 other birds, like the robin, meadowlark or red-tailed hawk. Scientists have also found they have an amazing sense of taste. Starlings can taste salt, sugars, citric acid and tannins. Some of that must translate to an outstanding sense of smell, because I swear they can smell the peanut butter in a suet feeder from a range of three miles. But don’t quote me on that.
The most amazing thing about starlings, in my book though, is how they got started in this country. Right before the end of the 19th century, a German immigrant named Eugene Schieffelin wanted to introduce as many birds that were mentioned in the literature of William Shakespeare as possible to North America. Schieffelin released 60 starlings in Central Park in New York, in hopes they would breed an populate the new land with the Bard’s birds.
Did it work?
Ummmm…yes. Better than in the crazy little German’s wildest dreams. Today, there are an estimated 200 million European starlings in the United States, all of which can trace their ancestry back to the original 60.
Sixty birds to 200 million? I’d bloody well call that a victory.