The heritage of Eugene Schieffelin
Eugene Schieffelin belonged to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the New York Zoological Society. He was responsible for introducing the European starling [Sturnus vulgaris] to North America.
In March 1890, Schieffelin released sixty European starlings into Central Park; the next year he released an additional forty. Unfortunately, he was a meticulous reader of Shakespeare, or, more likely, of Harting, for while several species of birds enjoyed starring roles in the metaphors and similes of Shakespeare’s verse, the starling is given a single, obscure cameo in Henry IV, Part I. Here is Hotspur:
„The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I’ll holler ‘Mortimer!’ Nay I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion.“
(Act I, Scene 3). Despite this eminently forgettable beginning, the starling would go on to dominate North America’s avian stage, speaking “Mortimer” and more across four time zones and nearly thirty degrees of latitude. The noisy batch of starlings that evicted the pigeons from under my neighbor’s eaves, the starlings I watched from my bathroom window this morning build their nests with the freshly severed stems of my tomato and pepper plants, are direct descendents of Eugene Schieffelin’s effort to bring the soothing, civilizing music of Shakespeare to New York’s huddling masses. Sturnus vulgaris indeed.