Friday, June 13, 2008

Teaching Starlings

Elly brought home the June 2008 issue of Review magazine, which covers the visual arts community in Kansas City. It includes an article, “Wings of Change” by Jessica Owings about an “urban culture” project conceived by Brian Collier centering on starlings. An invasive species, starlings were introduced to America in the late 19th century in an ill-conceived attempt to “improve” native American wildlife by Eugene Schieffelin who had the idea of introducing all the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. One hundred starlings were released in New York’s Central Park. They have proliferated so widely their number in America now exceeds 200 million. Their aggressive character has resulted in the displacement of many native American bird species, including the Eastern Blue Bird.

Collier’s project is to teach starlings, which are remarkable mimics, to say "Schieffelin" (pronounced she-flin) utilizing nestboxes equiped with a motion activated audio device that sounds the name repeatedly. The idea is that if some starlings learn the phrase, other starlings may pick it up too, and eventually birds accross the country could be repeating it. More information can be found at Collier’s Teach the Starlings website.

The thought of providing nest boxes for starlings, which have driven so many other birds from their nests, makes one wince. Still, I wonder how much difference that can make at this point -- it's not like starlings are having any difficulty finding nests. The whole idea seems hilarious to me. Though, one of my birding friends was less than amused and has promised to report Collier to the Audobon Society for “aiding and abetting an invasive species.” We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, Elly and I are keeping our ears pricked for Schiefelin saying starlings. Maybe this young bird is getting ready to sound forth...

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