Starlings at Central Parc NYC

The Heritage of Eugene Schieffelins

Eugene Schieffelin introduced the European starling [Sturnus vulgaris] to North America. In 1890, he released 100 starlings into New York City’s Central Park. European starlings are now considered an invasive species in the United States. Eugene Schieffelin belonged to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the New York Zoological Society. Schieffelin wanted to introduce all the birds mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare to North America. He may have also been trying to control the same pests that had been annoying him thirty years earlier, when he sponsored the introduction of the house sparrow to North America. European starlings were not native to North America. Schieffelin imported the starlings from England. Scientists estimate that descendants from those original released flocks now number at more than 200 million residing in the United States. The starlings’ wildly successful spread has come at the expense of many native birds that compete with the starling for nest holes in trees. The starlings have also had negative impact on the US economy and ecosystem. His attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks were not successful. Schieffelin belonged to the American Acclimatization Society, a group that aimed to help exchange plants and animals from one part of the world to another. In the 19th century, such acclimatization societies were fashionable and supported by the scientific knowledge and beliefs of that era, as the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem was not yet known.