Eugene Schieffelin was an ambitious and eccentric man in late 19th-century America, and that led to him developing some unique hopes and dreams. Case in point: Schieffelin wanted to be known as the man who brought Shakespeare’s birds to America, but he’s mostly known as the source of European starlings in America, and that’s not an overly positive moniker. Starlings are one of the worst and most destructive invasive species in North America, and their origins can be traced back to one Shakespeare superfan who had a crazy idea about literary birds.
How did European starlings become so common? Like most invasive species, starlings possess certain traits and advantages that allow them to outcompete native species and dominate ecosystems. In short, starlings are aggressive and extremely proficient at eating and breeding, enabling them to quickly take over the North American continent.
When Schieffelin released his first batch of starlings into Central Park in 1890, he had no inkling of the massively destructive force he had just unleashed.