Shakespeare Saturday: The Birds

Greetings, Nerd Cactus readers! Welcome to another edition of Shakespeare Saturday! This week I would like to share the insane story of how William Shakespeare affected the North American ecosystem.

You’re probably thinking, ‘yeah right… Shakespeare never set foot in the Colonies’. Well, you would be correct, but (as we well know) Shakespeare’s work has grown in popularity through the ages and has greatly influenced culture, literature, movies, etc. His plays have reached levels of fame that most writers could never dream of, attaining something akin to god-like status.

Now, if you’ve been following this blog you have no doubt figured out that our love for Shakespeare is practically infinite, providing yet another example of his long-reaching influence. However, I think I can speak for Nerd Cactus collectively when I say that we are nowhere near as Shakespeare-crazy as one 19th century Shakespeare aficionado. The man in question – one, Eugene Schieffelin – was a drug manufacturer, member of The American Acclimatization Society, and Shakespeare fanatic. Schieffelin’s idea of an homage to the Bard was to import (and release into the wild) a sampling of each avian species mentioned within Shakespeare’s works.

At the time nobody was particularly concerned with how this would affect the environment, because the rules and study of ecology were nonexistent. Introducing a non-native species into a new habitat hardly resulted in a batted eyelash until the beginning of the 20th century a decade later. After failed attempts at releasing skylarks and nightingales, Schieffelin moved on to starlings (mentioned briefly by a soldier in Henry IV Act I, scene iii) in March of 1890. There were sixty starlings in the first batch that was released in Central Park and the following year forty more were added to that count.

The starling population took off, taking a firm hold of New York in the 1890s and spreading as far as the Mississippi River within a few decades. A mere fifty years after being released from Schieffelin’s cages, starlings could be found in every state. Today they can be found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico.

Of course, as I mentioned before, nobody gave a damn that Mister Loony Tunes was releasing a new species into North America. However, today we know that introducing new species’ into new places is BAD. B. A. D. Bad. Just don’t do it. There are bloody pythons in the Everglades, for Pete’s sake. Starlings are no exception. They are awful. They are estimated to cause $800 million in damage to crops per year, are disease-ridden, bullies towards native birds, and straight up pests. So…. Thanks a lot, Shakespeare. We still love you, but why couldn’t you have chosen your words a little more carefully?


P.S. Have you ever noticed that there don’t seem to be any starlings in Starling City? What did you think Oliver Queen used for target practice before the tennis balls? (Ahaha…. *rimshot*)


*ART (we try it sometimes for fun)


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