16 March 2010

Eugene Schieffelin and Shakespeare

This is just the kind of eccentricity that appeals to me. Eugene Schieffelin, a wealthy drug manufacturer, intended to introduce into the States all the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. He was unsuccessful in that some species just didn't take to the country, but with the starling it was a very different story.

In 1890 and 1891, Schieffelin released a total of 100 starlings in Central Park, and his introduction of the bird into the country became so successful that the starling is now a pest.

On 1 September 1990, 100 years after the initial release of the starlings, the New York Times published an article on the story, and this is one of the paragraphs:

'By 1928 [starlings] were found as far west as the Mississippi. By 1942 they were in California. By the mid-1950's they numbered more than 50 million. Schieffelin's mission had become more appropriate to a work of Hitchcock than of Shakespeare.'

As I don't have an image of a starling, here's one of a female chaffinch. Originally I'd assumed that Eugene Schieffelin hadn't introduced the chaffinch, but in fact he had, as Dr Robert DeCandido kindly points out in a comment below. 'A List of Birds in Shakespeare', which has links to the quotations and includes two of the finch, is here.


Anonymous said...

thank you for you to make me learn more,thank you∩0∩

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thanks for this! Pleased to oblige!

Anonymous said...

Fringilla coelebs (Chaffinch) - Distribution. This bird is one of the most popular songsters of Britain and western Europe in general, a bird of the orchards and hedge-rows. It was introduced in 1890 at Central Park, New York City, by Mr Eugene Schieffelin, several pairs being released, and was still found in that vicinity as late as 1906, when Mr Chapman reported that 3 individuals at least were still in the park. In 1900 I noticed several specimens near the northern end of Manhattan island. It is probable, however, that unless more birds are introduced, this species will not increase as the Starling and the House sparrow have done.

From: The University of the State of New York, New York State Museum
JOHN M. CLARKE, Director
Memoir 12



Best Wishes from NYC - Robert DeCandido PhD

Dr Tony Shaw said...

I stand corrected! Thanks for this information, Richard! I shall amend my former comment.