The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0482 Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Date: Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Subject: Thanks to Shakespeare
Once Worthy of Shakespeare, The Starling Becomes a U.S. Pest
By Mike Stark
Monday, September 7, 2009
SALT LAKE CITY -- The next time the sky darkens with a flock of noisy,
unwelcome starlings, blame Shakespeare -- or, better yet, a few of his
strangest fans. Had the Bard not mentioned the starling in the third
scene of "Henry IV," arguably the most hated bird in North America might
never have arrived. In the early 1890s, about 100 European starlings
were released in New York City's Central Park by a group dedicated to
bringing to America every bird ever mentioned by Shakespeare.
Today, it's more like Hitchcock.
About 200 million shiny black European starlings crowd North America,
from the cool climes of Alaska to the balmy reaches of Mexico's Baja
Peninsula. The enormous flocks endanger air travel, mob cattle
operations, chase off native songbirds and roost on city blocks, leaving
behind corrosive, foul-smelling droppings and hundreds of millions of
dollars in damage each year. And getting rid of them is near impossible.
[ . . . ]
After the starlings' introduction, they quickly expanded west, taking
advantage of vast tracts of forested land opening up to agriculture and
human development, Dolbeer said. By the 1950s, they had reached
California and nearly all parts in between. Today, the starling is one
of the most common birds in the United States.
Starlings are also responsible for the deadliest bird strikes in
aviation: a 1960 civilian crash in Boston that killed 62 people and a
1996 military cargo plane crash that killed 34 in the Netherlands. Since
then, there have been close calls, including a Boeing 747 that ran into
a flock in Rome last fall. No one on board was killed, but the badly
damaged plane had a rough landing.
Those kinds of scenarios are why wildlife biologist Mike Smith has been
tweaking a series of traps used at Salt Lake City International Airport,
where there have been 19 reported starling strikes since 1990. The traps
use dog food to attract a starling or two. Hundreds more soon follow,
driven by their innate desire to flock with each other. He once caught
800 in a single day.
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