Birds Archives - Page 2 of 2 - Central Park

Bard For The Birds

The starling is only mentioned once by Shakespeare, in a passage which shows that in his time this bird, which possesses remarkable powers of imitation, was taught to say words. The fiery Hotspur declares that although the King had forbidden him to speak of Mortimer he would find his Majesty –

“When he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’
I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.”
[1st Henry IV – I, 3]

There it is – one passage in one play by the Bard.  Wouldn’t seem so very important – except for the fact that because of this single reference there are now over 200 million of the birds making their home on the North American Continent.

In 1890 a drug manufacturer named Eugene Scheiffelin had the intriguing notion  that New York City should be home to all Shakespeare’s songbirds. He brought thrushes and skylarks from England and released them into American skies. They failed to fight their way into our ecology.  He also released 100 starlings into Central Park.  They fared a little bit better.

The starling can now be found from Alaska to Florida in flocks that may number as many as one million.  They carry disease, destroy millions of dollars in crops every year and drive indigenous species out of their natural habitat.  In 1960 a flock in Boston was so large it fouled the engines of an airliner at takeoff and caused a deadly crash.  They have also defied decades of attempts to curb their numbers.   Starlings are the extreme edge of Darwinism.

It might have been a lot better if Hotspur had mentioned a parrot.

Annual Central Park Bird Count

The 109th annual Central Park Bird Count was conducted Sunday afternoon. The count is done each year to track the number and type of birds found in the park. Before the turn of the century the Christmas holiday was celebrated by what was called a “side hunt”. This consisted of a bunch of people (presumably dressed in tweed) choosing up sides and going out hunting. Whichever side came home with the biggest pile of dead animals won.   

What fun!

Originally initiated by the Audubon Society as a response to this annual yuletide slaughter the Bird Count is still organized by the bird watching society and is done in conjunction with the Parks Department. It also employs a dedicated cadre of bird enthusiasts to help with the counting. About 75 people came out on Sunday to help and were divided into groups to count birds in seven different zones in the park, including the Great Lawn, the Ramble, the Reservoir and the four corners of the park.

Parks Department spokesman Phil Abramson said the count this year was 6,041 birds from 55 different species. That’s down from last year’s count of 7,771 birds. Up this year were the number of rare bird called a Pine Sisken, about 50 were seen in the Ramble area of the park, a large increase over last year. Another interesting find this year was a wild turkey that has been making appearances around the Lake this fall. Presumably he was granted asylum from Alaska.

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