Alex Carroll

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One fateful day in 1890, the American Acclimatization Society, led by Eugene Schieffelin, released a flock of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in New York. Since then, starlings have spread across the U.S. and become serious invasive species since they can damage crops, vector disease, spread invasive plants, and outcompete cavity-nesting birds. According to later sources, the American Acclimatization Society had decided that North America was incomplete without all the birds referenced by Shakespeare. Although there is minimal evidence to support this literary claim, the society members certainly had birds on the brain, and they were not alone: acclimatization societies across America were introducing European birds, including house sparrows (Passer domesticus), common chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), and Eurasian skylarks (Alauda arvensis), to the states. Why did some of these species, like the starlings, take flight in America while others died out? What motivated the acclimatization societies to intentionally introduce exotic species? To investigate these questions, this paper combines literary perspectives, historical analysis, and invasive species biology. Although admiration for Shakespeare may have motivated Schieffelin and his colleagues, they were most likely influenced by nostalgia for Europe, goals for pest control, or contemporary environmental views, and the success of bird species was likely determined by introduction effort and unique life history traits.