How starlings got their start in Central Park

Recognize these birds? They’re European starlings, an iridescent, noisy species that thrives not just in New York but all over the U.S.

As the name makes clear, this breed isn’t native to North America. It owes its existence here to a super rich, quirky Bronx land owner named Edward Schieffelin—head of a group called the American Acclimatization Society.

“Schieffelin, a wealthy drug manufacturer and theatre aficionado, brought European starlings to New York City as part of his attempt to introduce every bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare to the United States,” explains a Parks Department web page.

None of the other winged critters Schieffelin brought over managed to survive. But the 120 starlings he set free in Central Park in 1890 and 1891 multiplied.

For 10 years, they remained in the New York area, but by 1930 were spotted in Tennessee and then finally made it to Alaska in 1970. Today their numbers are in the hundreds of millions.

Shakespeare’s one mention of the starling comes from King Henry IV: “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer.”

It’s a reference to its mimicking ability, which is why the starling is sometimes called the poor man’s mynah.

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5 Responses to “How starlings got their start in Central Park”

  1. Debby Schwartz Says:

    I love these little guys…

  2. nyc edges Says:

    another homage is the Shakespeare Garden in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens — since they have over 80 plants mentioned in his plays & sonnets, I guess it’s been more successful than the birds!

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    That’s a lovely place, a great idea for a future post!

  4. anonymous Says:

    I hate these damn starlings. Why didnt anyone stop Edward? Clearly he was a madman. There should be programs to reduce the population of starlings in the US.

  5. Day 1 — New York(遊樂場巡禮一) – 聽風的歌 Says:

    […] 每到一個城市,都會留意當地的物種。香港最常見的鳥是樹麻雀和紅耳鵯,在紐約,最常見的是家麻雀和歐洲椋鳥。為甚麼歐洲椋鳥會在美洲出現呢?原來有段好趣的故事。 […]

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