In the 1890s, Eugene Schieffelin, apparently unhealthily obsessed with Shakespeare, embarked on a plan to introduce every bird species mentioned by Shakespeare into the United States. This sort of thing was not uncommon in the early years of the Americas. Early settlers were driven to reshape their landscape to mirror the familiar sights of home. This is why old fashioned English gardens are rampantly distributed in many parts of the United States, and why most of our old growth forests are gone. The United States was a wild and unknown place, and European settlers set out to tame it, reframing it in terms they were acquainted with.
Fortunately, many introduced species failed to thrive. Others flourished, such as gorse, eucalyptus, and scotch broom. Many of these non-native species choked out native plants and animals, later leading to extensive eradication campaigns. However, they proved to be determined and stubborn, to the great detriment of many native species. This was a great tragedy for the Americas, and one which may never fully be realized, since early settlers ate, chopped down, or plowed under anything even vaguely foreign. We may never know what we lost.
At any rate, back to Schieffelin, who released, among many other avians, 60 European starlings into New York City’s Central Park. This decision had a far reaching impact on American civilization, since the birds took to the American environment alarmingly well. The extremely gregarious birds traumatized many self respecting and more sober local species, forcing them into small pockets around the country which slowly died out.
They also, of course, raised hell for humans, which brings me to why I have been cursing Schieffelin’s name lately.
You see, my new house has a starling nest. Possibly multiple nests, or maybe just one nest inhabited by ventriloquist starlings. There appear to be at least two parents and an unknown number of young, since I spot the parents swooping around the house or glaring at me in the garden, and I hear the young. Oh, how I hear them. Their penetrating shrieks permeate the walls, and they never seem to really stop. As soon as a faint peep of light appears in the sky, they are begging their parents for food, and they don’t stop raising a ruckus until the last ray of sunlight has slipped over the horizon.
When one has been out late, sensibilities are delicate early in the morning, and the manic cries of baby birds are not cute, quaint, or pleasurable. I have resolved to block off the nest as soon as the young fledge, to prevent a recurrence, but meanwhile, I live in a state of constant tension, waiting for the next burst of screams to emerge. To my surprise, the cats have expressed utter indifference. They don’t even peer around to try and find the source of the noise when the screaming begins. Not an ear cocks, not a whisker trembles. Yet, let a bird appear on the deck, and all hell breaks loose, with all three of them crowding up to the windows, chirruping.
What I want to know is…what gives? I mean, baby starlings seem like kitty party poppers. You would think that the cats would be all over this, like white on rice. Alas, no. Not even some scrabbling at the walls to put the fear of Pete into the raucous youngsters. If I can hear them, I know that the cats can. Perhaps they are simply enjoying my torment?
Also, why on Earth would someone find the screams of starlings attractive or compelling? These birds are really leading me to question the alleged superiority of European civilization, since anyone who would willingly introduce these pestilences into their lives is clearly patently insane.