Thursday, November 10, 2011

LOOK FOR: Starlings

You know I stick mostly to native species on this blog. There are so many wonderful creatures and plants to explore without needing to focus on the imported counterparts that are crowding them out. But a friend forwarded a beautiful little video that I thought I would pass along, because this truly is one of the natural phenomena that takes my breath away a few times a year.

Sturnus vulgaris
Photo credit: Kristof Borkowski
Starlings were brought to the United States in the late 19th century by a group called the American Acclimitization Society, whose sole purpose was introducing European species of plants and animals. A sub-project of this larger work was to introduce into New York city parks every species of bird mentioned in a work of Shakespeare.

And what did Shakespeare think of starlings? They won't shut up. (Those of you who've been near a flock will agree.) In Henry IV, the king was refusing to pay a ransom to release his brother-in-law Edmund Mortimer. Hotspur, who took the prisoners in a battle, says:

He said he would not ransom Mortimer;
Forbad my tongue to speak of Mortimer;
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I'll holla 'Mortimer!'
Nay, I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion.

I don't think Hotspur ever went through with this plan, but the Acclimitization Society's dreams were fulfilled beyond their wildest expectations. It's estimated there are now more than 200 million starlings in North America, reaching coast to coast and into Canada and Mexico. The Introduced Species Summary Project complains that besides being noisy and messy, they ravage crops and crowd out native bird species as they travel around in flocks that sometimes number in the thousands.

Invasive though they are, such big flocks can also be a thing of beauty. Check it out.

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.