An Unwelcome Success

The European Starling in America

It all started innocently

In the springs of 1890 and 1891, an enthusiastic artist by the name of Eugene Schieffelin released 100 European Starlings in New York's Central Park in an effort to "acclimatize" the species in North America in New York City. The birds took to the city rapidly and established nests in the eves of the American Museum of Natural History rooftop.

the starlings' first homes

About these Pictures

These images are period pictures of the starlings' first habitats in North America.

A starling here, a starling there, everywhere a starling

During the first decade of the 20th century, starlings were viewed with curiousity as they began to thrive. In one letter to the editor of the New York Times in February of 1900, the author wonders if what she is seeing is a starling. "Can you inform me what sort of bird it is which frequents this neighborhood?" she begins, then detailing its appearance and coloration. The romance with the starling did not last. It may be good that Eugene Schieffelin did not live to hear the disdain heaped on the starling in later years. He died in 1906 while the starling was still a novelty. By the 1920s, the starling was multiplying and spreading westward. By 1927 the starling had made it to the east bank of the Mississippi River. The first one was spotted in Oklahoma in 1929. The starling had arrived. By this time, people in the larger cities had began to realize the starling could be a real problem as it wintered in large numbers. During the years that followed, people in the affected areas began trying everything they could think of to scare off or kill the birds.

Starling pot pies

As the starling spread, people devised many strategies to disperse, scare off and even kill mass numbers of the birds. We invited them here, but now they were unwelcome. Some of the dispersal Chicken Piemethods cities tried were noise-makers of all types, spraying flocks from buildings with firehoses, using owl decoys, placing radios in open windows and playing their distress calls and even hiring charlatans who claimed to have secret devices that would chase them away. If these methods failed, killing them en masse seemed to be the solution. In this newspaper article from 1946, one lady wanted the local lawmen, who had just killed 6000 starlings, to save her a "mess of starlings" for starlling pot pie.


Acclimatization Societies

During the mid to late 1800s it was in vogue to participate in the "acclimatization" of non-native species to the local environment. Three societies, one in New Zealand, one in Australia and one in the United States, introduced the European Starling. It has been thriving in all three countries ever since. Pictured here is the French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire the "father" of the acclimitization society concept.