As I was watching the wigeons in the water below, two dark forms swept up and perched on the overhead power wires near the Schoolhouse Creek outfall (map). I thought they might be crows, but something about their manner persuaded me to turn my telephoto lens on them, and I’m glad I did. These were European Starlings, the first I’ve seen in some time, and possibly the advance party of hundreds.
The story of these birds has been oft repeated but may be overlaid with fiction. Various Americans attempted to introduce the European Starling to North America in the 1800s to attack domestic insects, but met with failure. In 1890 and ’91, Eugene Schieffelin, chairman of the American Acclimatization Society, released 100 of the European birds in Central Park of New York City. The Acclimatization Society worked to introduce birds from other countries to the U.S., and vice versa. The introduction of the European House Sparrow was one of the group’s earlier projects. It’s now routinely believed that Schieffelin’s purpose was to introduce to the U.S. every bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare, but more recent research turned up no mention of such a motive until 1948, four decades after Schieffelin’s death, when the American naturalist and writer Edwin Teale introduced this story without any evidence. Being a good story, it has stuck, lack of proof be damned. I’ve repeated it myself earlier in this blog, see “European Starling,” Aug. 19 2018.
Whatever the motive, these birds reproduced with phenomenal success. The initial hundred have turned into something like 200 million in North America. In the park, we’ve seen flocks of a hundred or more foraging on the grasslands, and I photographed a breeding pair feeding chicks in the summer of 2019 (“Starlings Do It,” June 9 2019). But I haven’t seen the birds since. As I speculated at the time, the resident American Crows claim a monopoly over this territory, and various raptors including the White-tailed Kites might find the starlings good prey. So, it remains to be seen whether the two that I saw this week over Schoolhouse Creek are the advance guard of hundreds or a scouting party that will report back to the main body and advise going elsewhere.