Exotic animals and plants are crisscrossing the globe as never before. Many of these unwelcome species have found their way to the Chicago area and are wreaking havoc on our local ecosystem.
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NAME: European starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
DATE INTRODUCED: 1890
HOW IT GOT HERE: A literary man's whim
Blame the Bard. In 1890, a literature-loving pharmacist set free 60 European starlings in New York's Central Park, part of his plan to introduce all the birds of Shakespeare to American shores; since then these birds with glossy black iridescent feathers have spread coast to coast and now number around 200 million. (Paradoxically, they are mentioned only once in Shakespeare's works, in Henry IV, Part I.) Moving in large flocks, the starlings bully native birds, destroy crops, and possibly spread diseases, such as the fungal lung ailment histoplasmosis and Newcastle disease, which kills poultry. "They're aggressive pests," says the Field's Stotz. "They form large winter roosts; their droppings can befoul humans; and, most serious, they keep bluebirds, chickadees, tree swallows, and other holenesters from accessing nesting sites."
THE FIGHT: Starlings have proved to be unstoppable. Instead, local conservationists have focused on saving the starling's victims, mainly bluebirds, by building artificial nest boxes with holes too tiny for starlings to enter.