Schieffelin’s Folly

13 Jun

For a short while near the end of the nineteenth century, a romantic, if misguided, idea came into the atmosphere surrounding North American conservation and wildlife. Started by the American Acclimatization Society, the goal was the introduction of various European species to native environments. These species would provide pest control, game, and, of course, a hint of the culture one could only get in Europe. A kind of idolatry of British wildlife arose, often at the cost of the native species.

One of the most prominent members of the Acclimatization Society was a man named Eugene Schieffelin. Eugene Schieffelin seemed to be the very definition of a socialite. Wealthy, educated, and a member of many different clubs and societies dedicated to erudite hobbies and public welfare. In 1890 it was Schieffelin who marched out to the center of Manhattan’s Central Park with birdcage in hand. In the cage were sixty European Starlings. The birds were probably crowded and somewhat ratty in appearance, they had to be special ordered from Britain. The birds would not be singing, but Schieffelin hoped that their warbles would be enjoyed by everyone who visited Central Park.

So, he bent down, opened the door, and released the first sixty starlings into North America. It is famously speculated that his hope was to release every species mentioned by Shakespeare onto the new continent, although sources are vague.

Today, one can look out their window in Seattle and immediately spot one of the descendents of Schiefeelin’s birds. It’s not hard, there are estimated to be two hundred million of them spread throughout the continent. The damage to the environment, industry, and architecture has been immense and nigh uncontrollable.

But Schieffelin got his wish. Nobody in America today can’t hep but hear their song. Whether we want to or not.

Sources: Allaboutbirds, Have Bag, Will Travel Blog, Wikipedia

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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Modernity


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