No one who has ever watched Birdemic: Shock and Terror would ever equate the name of William Shakespeare with the movie. The film, widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, centers around the disasters that take place when birds wreak havoc on their surroundings. While Shakespeare may have had nothing to do with Birdemic the cult film, he is indirectly responsible for another type of birdemic, the consequences of which continue to plague North America.
Eugene Scheiffelin (1827-1906) liked the works of William Shakespeare. In fact, he really liked the works of Shakespeare. The wealthy drug manufacturer had two hobbies: reading Shakespeare and studying birds. He decided to combine his two passions to honor his favorite author by introducing to America every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.
While well-intentioned, Scheiffelin’s decision had devastating repercussions. In 1890 he released 60 starlings in New York City’s Central Park. One year later, he introduced another 40. The birds are not native to North America and created an instant imbalance in the food chain. Within 50 years, the birds spread from Central Park across the entire United States. The original 100 birds now have at least 200 million descendants.
Starlings devour the crops of grain farmers, consuming as much as twice their own weight each day. The prosperity of the starling comes at the expense of other species, such as the woodpecker and bluebird, who have been driven close to extinction by the invasive birds. Despite efforts by the U.S. Wildlife Service to kill as many as one million birds per year, starlings continue to cause nearly $1 billion worth of damage to crops each year.
Ironically, out of the 884,647 words in the complete works of William Shakespeare, the starling is just mentioned one time:
I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion. (Henry IV, Part I, Act I, Scene 3)
Read more fun facts about William Shakespeare.
Read more fun facts about birds.