Gang Glast Aglay: Shakespeare, Starlings, and a Good Idea Gone Bad

“Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer.’” ~ Hotspur, Henry IV, Part I

What do you get when you combine the good intentions of a well-meaning Shakespeare lover who also loved birds? Well, THIS….

In 1890, a New Yorker named Eugene Schieffelin released eighty starlings into New York’s Central Park. He wanted to introduce every species mentioned in the works of Shakespeare to America. Not a great idea. Those eighty have become two hundred million and they are considered an invasive species. Starlings take up many of the resources that native birds rely upon, such as nesting space and food.

Here are lines from several plays in which Shakespeare mentions birds.

Her tongue will not obey her heart, nor can
Her heart inform her tongue,–the swan’s
down-feather,
That stands upon the swell at full of tide,
And neither way inclines.

Antony and Cleopatra 3.2.56-60

Go thither; and, with unattainted eye,
Compare her face with some that I shall show,
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow.

Romeo and Juliet 1.2.88-90

He loves us not;
He wants the natural touch; for the poor wren,
The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.

Macbeth 4.2.8-11

Cock-crow at ChristmasSome say that ever ‘gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,

The bird of dawning singeth all night long

And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad

The nights are wholesome then no planets strike,

No fairy tales, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Hamlet 1.1.157-164


3 Comments on “Gang Glast Aglay: Shakespeare, Starlings, and a Good Idea Gone Bad”

  1. Bob Tarte says:

    The starlings in the video are on their home turf, and not over here. So I don’t begrudge them their huge flock of millions.

    Having raised and released many European Starlings with my wife Linda, I have to confess a great affection for these birds. Living out in the country on the edge of a ‘wet’ woods, we’re not overwhelmed by them. If we’re visited by four starlings in any given year, it’s noteworthy. I should also mention the status of the House Sparrow in Europe. Once as numerous in Europe as they are in the USA, the bird is now in precipitous decline over there. So today’s abundance (or over-abundance, if that’s your point of view) can easily lead to tomorrow’s scarcity.

    – Bob Tarte, author of “Enslaved by Ducks” (which includes a chapter of starlings) and “Kitty Cornered” (which does not)

  2. chazgallant says:

    Hooray Jamie! My Heart follows the Birds. I’ve a great affection for the European Starling…and some sense of how they came to be here in America in the late 1800’s. Still, quite a spectacular exhibit of them, literally in droves, in their native Europe…. a whirlwind of Birdies!!! Fabulous. Simply fabulous. Thank you.

    In the U.S.the Starling population is on par with the Cowbirds. Both are referred to as avian welfare recipients and blamed as being largely responsible for declines in our song birds population. I can see that to a great extent, specially in the urban areas. Our cowbird came to us after it was found out to be an imposter in the nest of some starlings (ironic), and was kicked out before it could hope to fly. They are, as most birds, still quite fragile and subject to their environment, which we much preserve.

    As Bob aptly points out, Starlings (and Cowbirds such as our Lucky Lindy) may suddenly also dwindle in seemingling a flash of time…so I do ( and we should ) cherish them and nurture the lesser creatures as need. Nature is not always kind, but it is (supposed to be) perfect.

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