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How Did Starlings Become Invasive in the United States?

Invasive species are organisms that are not native to a specific area. Since they do not belong to that particular environment, they may cause ecological and economic harm. Invasive species are known to cause the extinction of indigenous organisms that significantly impact an area’s ecology. But have you heard of how sterlings are harming the ecology of the United States?  

Eugene Schieffelin was an avid fan of Shakespeare. He wanted to introduce the birds Shakespeare referred to in his plays to the US. In 1890, he released 60 starlings in New York Central Park. The birds are now harming the country’s agriculture.

How the Starlings were Introduced in the US

Shakespeare is probably one of the most influential writers of all time. His work has inspired several artists and filmmakers. Most of his plays and poetry feature different kinds of birds. In his work, the famous writer referred to choughs, wrens, cormorants, owls, nightingales, larks, and some 60 other species, inspiring bird lovers for centuries to come.

Eugene Schieffen, an avid fan and bird enthusiast, wanted to introduce Shakespeare’s birds in North America. He thought it would be nice if the species of birds Shakespeare referred to were to live and flourish in New York’s Central Park.

Schieffen first released a flock of nightingales into the park, but unfortunately, the birds didn’t survive. Then he released a flock of skylarks. Sadly they also met the same fate of dying in the harsh New York winter. Schieffelin then released house sparrows in the park and was happy to see that the species flourished.

Seeing the result, he was inspired to release sixty European starlings into the park. The starlings survived the winter, and they soon began to multiply. Fifty years later, the species spread throughout the country. (Source: BBC)

It was known that Schieffelin was part of the American Acclimatization Society, which originated from Europe. Its main philosophy was to understand species, with perceived beneficial effects to nature, respond to new environments in the hopes of understanding how to transplant these locally. (Source: JSTOR)

Why Are Starlings Problematic for the US Ecosystem?

Starlings are known to be ground foragers whose perceived benefit is getting rid of insects that may harm produce and crops. Their diet consists of insects, seeds, and fruits, and they are known to acclimate to their environment quickly. (Source: New York Invasive Species)

There are about 200 million European starlings in the US today and are now considered a nuisance. They are one of the few bird species unprotected by law. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), this bird species can cause significant problems if their population cannot be managed.

They are known to be a problem in airports because they flock in huge numbers, and their bodies are very dense. In 1960, these birds caused the most deadly bird strike in the history of US aviation. The starlings flew into a plane’s engines as it departed from the Logan Airport in Boston, killing 62 people in the crash. 

A study in 2000 showed that the European starlings cause significant damage to the US Agricultural industry. The total damage this species of birds caused was estimated to be at $800 million, as they ate cattle rations and destroyed different crops. It was reported that cattle milk production dropped because they couldn’t get the nutrition they needed as starlings consumed their food.

Starlings are very competitive and dominant. They are known to have displaced many native birds by invading their nest sites. In a 2003 study, it was confirmed that starling’s presence in their territory negatively impacted certain local species like sapsuckers. (Source: BBC)

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