Asshole Birds

What do you say about killing another’s baby, replacing it with your own and forcing the parents to cancel out their genetic contribution to the world line in favor of your own. One side is obviously a bunch of dummies, and the other, vindictive jerks taking advantage of maternal niceties.

For all of you who go to nature as a refuge from the bustling world to relax in the soothing sounds of bird calls, think again. Some of those lovely chirpings are actually territorial calls from a troupe of avian terrorists set on taking over the bird world. Even some bird rehabilitators who receive this particular species smile in thanks at the well-wishers who bring them an injured specimen, only to snap their necks as soon as they leave. It wouldn’t be so bad if they had natural predators to keep them in line, but since they’re not from our neck of the woods, they literally get away with murder.

I’m talking about the European starling, of course; a sophisticated species who is slowly wiping out our own native birds. This attractive bird has shiny black, green and purple plumage overtones and a bright yellow to orange beak. Their foraging methods is one of the most advanced of the passerines (small birds that can perch on stuff). They stick their beaks into the ground and pry them open to look for food.

Sometimes, unpaired females will lay their eggs in other birds’ nests – what is called nest parasitism. Once hatched, their babies actually kick the original eggs out of the nest, and their adopted parents, who are now imprinted with their false young, raise them as their own. Wash, rinse, repeat.

They have become a real problem for native bird species in North and South America, New Zealand and Australia. They were first introduced in New York’s Central Park for aesthetic reasons because of a Shakespeare play that described the bird, and wanted a realistic reenactment of the period.

As National Geographic blogger Chad Cohen said, “The starling’s ability to mimic human speech earned the bird this cameo in Shakespeare’s Henry IV:

“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.”

It is the only mention of the starling in all of Shakespeare. Yet it was enough to inspire Eugene Schiffelin (an eccentric Shakespeare fanatic) to import 60 of the fruitful birds to the United States and release them one March day in New York’s Central Park. … there are now over 20 million starlings in the United States.”

In other words, the European starling is an invasive species that left behind its natural predators, allowing it to adapt and overtake local species. They overtake habitat, out breed and out eat the birds that were here first.

Helen Garland is an avian specialist who has worked at various airports using birds of prey to control other bird populations that might pose a risk to passengers. “They’re pains in my rear end, danger to every airline passenger and killer/competition for native bird species. Send them all back to Europe along with the house sparrow (which has displaced the native bluebird)!”

While starlings could be considered top jerks in the avian world, you gotta hand it to them for becoming such a success, especially in the urban environment. While many passerines have a specific insect or seed diet, starlings eat everything (poutine, seeds in other animal’s poop, maybe even the evil leftover fumes from shit Harper did), giving them an advantage when regular food sources run thin.

Survival of the fittest has never meant survival of the best.

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