Tuesday, Feb. 02, 2010


In 1890 New York drug manufacturer Eugene Schieffelin released some 60 European starlings in Central Park. His dream was to introduce every bird mentioned by Shakespeare into North America — an intent that proved to be more Hitchcock than Bard. Schieffelin hoped the songbirds would prosper in their new home in ways the skylarks and song thrushes had not, and they certainly did. Now the purple-green iridescent birds roost in hordes of up to 1 million; they can devour up to 20 tons of potatoes in one day and their droppings are believed to be vectors of several infectious diseases. Numerous inventive attempts have been made to eradicate the birds — including strategies involving itching powder, live wires, poisoned pellets, cobalt 60 and Roman candles. Even a jetliner couldn't stop them. In 1960, a flock of some 10,000 starlings flew straight into a Lockheed Electra, crippling its engine and causing the plane to crash. Sixty-two people were killed.