Images courtesy of Google Images.
European Starlings are considered by many Americans to be one of the ultimate “invasive” species to alter the landscape of America. These birds are loathed by many, loved by few. Upon thinking about this, it baffled me to an extent – our hatred for the Starling, due to a few factors.
First off, we brought Starlings to this country. Less than 100 of these birds were released in Central Park in the 1800s and helped spawned the many millions of Starlings that roam every corner of this country today.
What happened to cause us to loathe a bird we willingly brought to this country?
Here are some theories and musings.
Their social tendencies to gather in packs make us nervous – we Americans seem to be very uncomfortable with “packs” of things in general. We are wary of any animal or peoples (but especially animals) who gather in large numbers in one place (with people - other than for obvious group activities like concerts). This might be something that is more common to humans in general than just Americans, but it is a behavior that I have noticed in Americans, so that is all I can speak for.
Their industriousness fuels the fire too. Starlings are adaptable birds capable of thriving in many different environments, particularly city environments where a diverse array of food is plentiful – so they did, and they bred, and their numbers grew. These birds have been so successful in our practically made-for-Starling environments that they have become the bane of monocropping farmers, have taken to stealing food sources and nests from native bird species (and sometimes even other invasive species like the European House Sparrow), and gather in loud, noisy packs in city centers.
What fascinates me about this situation is that we despise a bird for qualities that we find to be of utmost importance in Americans: adaptability, an enterprising nature, seizing of opportunity, overtaking the competition – these birds are in many ways the bird incarnation of Americans. They were brought to the Land of Opportunity and they took it, damn it! These birds are imperialistic and destructive in the pursuit of territory – just as we were (and still are) when we arrived on this continent - and have quickly spread the country over in just a short time (sound familiar?).
We find these birds to be ugly, noisy, obnoxious – has anyone ever seen overfed and liquored NFL football fans on gameday? And again, NFL football and the endearing behavior that often ensues seems to be a particularly American thing.
And while we may not steal nests, got any natural resources?
I guess what I find most interesting is that we provided the supreme habitat for these industrious birds and then felt threatened when they began to spread and conquer – as of course they would. Ironic to find that these birds – whom we willingly brought here – have been the target of countless unsuccessful eradication programs over the years.
Perhaps the introduction of the Starlings was one of those “It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time” moments – at least it seemed like a good idea to someone (apparently they were brought over by folks who wanted all of the birds in Shakespeare’s works to be in Central Park). But now that they are here, and have altered our landscapes – acting as the bird equivalent to Americans – we change our tune. I guess they are becoming a bit too much like us for comfort?
But think about it – with their obvious capitalistic friendly behaviors and American-like demeanor, should the Starling not be raised from its status as “pest” to the National Bird? Do they not stand for and possess the go-get ‘em qualities and hard line competitive nature that we Americans find so important? Sure, they will eventually take over the country and we may be left with simply House Sparrows and Starlings, but we Americans like monocropping don’t we? Corn or soy anyone? Move over Eagle, I think we have a formidable foe.
My “moral of the story” here would be – take the precautionary principle more often and we will have fewer of these “Seemed like A Good Idea at the Time” moments.
(And if anyone is curious on my take on Starlings: personally, I am happy to have bird life of any sort in my neighborhood - even if Starlings are annoying. Our attempts to cull their population are pretty futile and generally end up taking unintended victims with them. I guess I would say we get used to it. We can certainly find ways to discourage them on a personal scale, but otherwise, I'd let things be. We mess with things far too much as it is and it always seems to create more problems. And no, I am not anti-American, I just like to poke fun and do not feel that liking your country means liking everything it does.)