Back in 1890 one Shakespeare super-fan took his enthusiasm too far, and the American bird population has never been the same. It sounds like the set-up of some bizarre popular legend, but it's as strange as it is true.
Eugene Schlieffen was the amateur ornithologist who had the idea of filling New York's Central Park with every bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. Certain species among the European birds mentioned in Shakespeare were unable to adapt to ecological conditions in the park, but the European starling succeeded beyond Shleiffen's wildest expectations.
It didn't take long for the starlings to form established breeding areas. By 1891 breeding was observed, and by the turn of the century the range of the bird began to expand rapidly, reaching central Maine, the Great Lakes, and northern Georgia by 1926.
By 1945, starlings had established breeding populations on the Pacific coast. Starlings are an invaseive species, and they cause over $800 million in annual damage to U.S. agriculture.
On a positive note, when seeds from those plants pass through a starling's system, they are more likely to germinate when deposited. Today, the hundred starlings Schlieffen released have multiplied and now colonize the whole North American continent in numbers estimated at 93 million strong.
That number represents an estimated 50 percent loss since 1970, when the population was near 200 million. The sharp decline in starlings mirrors the horrific loss of birds in North America in general.
This means that starlings are decling, but they remain year-round competitors of some native species for nesting spots and food.