.

Shakespeare and the Starlings

Last fall, we had a huge flock of strange birds take over our feeders for one day.  Many of them banged into our windows and one even fell to the ground, lifeless.  We identified the rowdy visitors as starlings and we haven't seen them in our yard since.

Here's what the intruders looked like.  Not very pretty.

I recently learned that starlings are not native the to U.S.   Eugene Schieffelin brought them here.  Actually, he brought about one hundred of them  from Europe and released them in Central Park.  He had this obsession to introduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works to America, no easy task as Shakespeare mentions over 60 different birds.  His experiment with starlings was wildly successful in one sense - they spread like crazy, leaving the U.S. with over 200 million of these pests. Our feeder visitors are included in that number.  His attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, skylarks, and song thrushes failed.

On order...
Funny, but the starling gets one lone mention in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I:
"The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer.  But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I'll holler 'Mortimer!' Nay I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion."

I read this story about Mr. Schieffelin and his plan in an excerpt from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  And that excerpt is from this book, which I recommend snuggling up with on cold winter mornings.
edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch
For more on Eugene, Shakespeare, and the starlings, see this interesting New York Times piece which details some of the wild methods used in attempts to eradicate the species.

So, if you're still reading this, you might be interested to know that a group of starlings is called a "murmuration" AND if you've ever witnessed a starling mumuration, you know that it is a spectacular sight.  I have seen this here in SW MN while driving out on the prairie.  This 5 minute video captures it nicely.



From joy to joy,
Nancy

21 comments:

  1. I love watching starlings from afar, but I do not like them stealing all the birdsees from our feeders, as they are wont to do. Thankfully, we haven't seen them much this season!!

    I do love the video though. It is breathtaking (saw it before, but can not get enough of it!!)

    Thanks for the book recommendations!

    Sincerely,

    A fellow CM homeschooler (20 years and almost finished, with the first generation, at least ;-) Grandmotherhood will be fun!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Javamom! So nice to meet a kindred spirit. Yes, those starlings were such bullies when they were here. Congratulations on a journey almost completed!

      Delete
  2. Great stuff Nancy! Reading your post almost makes Mr. Eugene sound comical (in an extrodinarily good sense, of course). Questions like, What would make him think he could do that? and How fond of Shakespeare was he? Why? How wonderful would it be to see all those birds? Bird studies and Shakespeare? Hmm...you always get me thinking ;D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Too funny - that's exactly how I think about it all! Can't you just see a terrific novel in here?

      Delete
  3. For all their unsightliness at close range, starlings are more than redeemed when seen from afar, and the lovely word that describes the sight. I wonder who first gave that name to a flying flock?

    Thank you for sharing the books and the video.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tracy,
      That is a great summary of this post, Tracy. And I agree about the redemption and lovely word.

      From joy to joy,
      Nancy

      Delete
  4. I think it depends on when you see the starlings. They have interesting patterns and a beautiful iridescence. Not that that makes them any less of pests. Last summer a flock of around fifty landed in my elderberry bush and ate every last berry, much to the chagrin of my resident catbird. If I see them next year, I'm going to try to chase them away. I don't mind the occasional visitor, but my yard can't handle a murmuration! (thanks for the new word!)

    Peace and Laughter,
    Cristina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, my murmuration (we must keep using our new word) was a mini-murmuration, if you will. Did you read about the bizarre methods to keep them at bay in the Times article?

      Delete
  5. I think Emma saw that video last year in Beth Pinckney's Field Biology class. Wonder if they are in John Stott's book on Birds. You always find the most interesting books which I did find super, super cheap so I ordered them. You can never have too many books.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Add Mozart to your starling connections! He kept one as a pet. The story goes that as he was walking by a pet shop he heard a bird singing a theme from his piano concerto in g major. He entered, bought the starling and named it Stahrl! Apparently they have complex vocals and can mimic other animals and birds very well.
    Sally

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So, I guess I could have named the post, "Shakespeare, the Starlings and Mozart"? I LOVE that little fact, Sally. Your composer expertise adds to yet another off-beat discussion!

      Delete
  7. We get lots of starlings here in PA. We saw quite a few when we lived in Kansas City, and they were spotted like the ones in your picture. The ones here are more iridescent, but we still don't like them taking all of our birdseed. They seem to like something in our yard, and we usually try to scare them away. We saw a murmuration the other day, and it was fascinating. I had never really seen anything like that before. But I would still rather have bluebirds eat from our birdfeeder. :) Thanks for sharing this. I'm sharing the video on my blog, too. Hope you don't mind ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bluebirds? Now that is something I would LOVE to see at my feeder, but haven't yet.

      From joy to joy,
      Nancy

      Delete
  8. Oh yes, we have plenty of starlings here in NYC. We also have a Shakespeare garden in Central Park with flowers mentioned in his works. They aren't very well labeled, in my opinion, and it's been on the back of my mind to do a project of identifying the flowers and finding the references in Shakespeare just for the fun of it. I guess that's something else to add to my Nature Journal To-Do List!
    I will most definitely check out the resources you recommend, and I'm especially interested in the book about winter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now that sounds like a fun, fun thing to do. Just heightening their awareness to look for the flowers mentioned as you do Shakespeare, then to keep a list and go look at them, my mind is racing with the possibilities...

      From joy to joy,
      Nancy

      Delete
  9. Starlings are very common place in Central IL. They are not a favorite of mine. They do seem to flock and take over the feeder from time to time. I much prefer the pretty cardinal or blue jays!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Our starlings imitate Red-tailed hawks which always gets my attention. I think they are very pretty when they are in their iridescent feathers of spring and yellow beaks. They are rarely in our feeders but they are around the neighborhood up in the tip tops of the trees. I can hear them a lot of the time but not see them. Interesting entry Nancy. Thanks for sharing with the carnival.

    ReplyDelete
  11. What a fascinating post! I was intrigued to read how Shakespeare came into the picture! We also get Starlings here in South Africa and they are quite aggressive and cheeky.

    ReplyDelete
  12. So, did Schieffelin give us grackles too? They seem to fit the profile of unwanted pest.

    ReplyDelete
  13. We have starlings here, too. (Though I do think they are kind of pretty.) I knew they were not a native species, but I had no idea about the rest of their history!

    ReplyDelete