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A PLAGUE OF STARLINGS
Robert Cantwell
September 09, 1974
The pretty plan was to bring the Bard's birds to America. It brought troubles by the flock
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September 09, 1974

A Plague Of Starlings

The pretty plan was to bring the Bard's birds to America. It brought troubles by the flock

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Schieffelin died in 1906 without knowing that his only successful introduction was the starling—and without knowing why only the starling, the English sparrow and Chinese pheasant survived of all the birds that he and his rivals set free. Nor does anyone know now. The prevailing belief is that a niche existed in North American nature, an empty place not needed by competing species, a sort of vacuum that starlings could fill without encountering the struggles for food and shelter that killed off other introduced species. When the Lacey Act was passed in 1900 it specifically prohibited the importation of starlings. By that time it was too late. Under the Lacey Act the Office of Foreign Game Introduction was eventually established. Birds could no longer be brought in for whimsical reasons, such as a mention in Shakespeare. A thorough scientific study of the effect on native birds, on agriculture and on human beings was carved out. As a result, 114 species were studied in some 20 years in Europe and Asia, and 14, including capercaillies, Iranian pheasants, francolins and golden, silver, copper and green pheasants, were tested, studied and eventually released.

Last year the entire bird introduction program was abolished. An amendment to the Lacey Act now being considered sets up such strict controls that introduction of foreign species is in effect prohibited. There will never again be anything like the starling invasion, a very wise decision, though considerably belated. But,' too, there will never again be anything like the introduction of the ring-necked pheasant or the chukar partridge or any other agreeable import. Starlings have a lot to answer for.

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