Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Birds

Referring, that is, to the Hitchcock movie. Yesterday I suddenly heard an astonishing noise, undecipherable at first, as I might imagine an avalanche. Then I resolved it into the rush of a million wings and a million birdsongs.

I stepped outside to see a flock of starlings that quite literally blackened the sky, hundreds of them at a time stopping in the tops of my tallest oaks then rejoining the procession of thousands upon thousands to the south and west. The caravan must have stretched for miles. It took a good 15 minutes to pass my house. I have seen other flocks passing this fall, nearly as large, but to have them go right over my head was other wordly.

This is beautiful and awesome and all that but also a bit disturbing. As many people know, the European starling was introduced to North America in 1890 by a group called the American Acclimitization Society, which was dedicated to bringing European species to America. A clown named Eugene Schieffelin thought it would be cute to bring every bird mentioned by Shakespeare to Central Park. As a result there are today something like 200 million European starlings in the U.S. (1% of which passed over my house yesterday, it seems) and they are a nuisance. By competing for nesting sites they have caused populations of some native birds to collapse. They help to spread invasive fauna, damage crops, interfere with air traffic, and foul vast areas with their droppings.

People are heedless and foolish, that's all I can say.


  1. I haven't seen a migrating flock like that in more than 40 years. I remember when I was growing up in New Jersey, the fall skies were often darkened by huge flocks of birds migrating south. Now I wonder if they were starlings.

    Yes, some people really screw things up in a very big way.

  2. Yes, I saw this phenomenon as a child in CT, then didn't see it for a while, now they're back. They may have had a population decline for some reason, then a new explosion. I didn't see anything about that in the references I consulted, however.