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
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