Starlings, Agents of Annoyance

Shakespeare fans brought the birds here, and now they're out of control

Monday, Sep 7, 2009  |  Updated 8:30 AM PDT
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Starlings, Agents of Annoyance

Starlings have grown from a North American population of 100 just over a century ago to more than 200 million.

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It started out with just 100 European starlings released in Central Park, but now the avian creature bird some call the most hated bird in North America is officially a scourge.

Shakespeare mentioned the starling in the third scene of "Henry IV," and in the early 1890s a group dedicated to bringing to America every bird ever mentioned by the bard let loose the flock in New York. Now, come 200 million shiny black European starlings crowd North America, from Alaska to Mexico. The enormous flocks endanger air travel, mob cattle operations, chase off native songbirds, roost on city blocks, and cause hundreds of millions of dollars of damage each year.

They're also responsible for the most deadly bird strikes in aviation: a 1960 civilian crash in Boston that killed 62 and a 1996 military cargo plane crash that killed 34 in the Netherlands. Since then, there have been close calls, including a Boeing 747 that ran into a flock in Rome last fall. No one was killed but the badly damaged plane had a rough landing.

And getting rid of them is near impossible. Last year U.S. government agents poisoned, shot and trapped 1.7 million starlings, more than any other nuisance species, according to new figures, only to see them roaring back again.

"It's sort of like bailing the ocean with a thimble," said Richard Dolbeer, a retired Wildlife Services researcher in Sandusky, Ohio, who spent years trying to figure out ways to keep starlings from causing problems at airports.

Get more: The Associated Press

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