Watercooler Ammo: Starlings are the new "Star Wars Kid"


The noble fellow at left is the Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, and he has recently become a web celebrity ("cewebrity?"). A crazy video of Hitchcock-style starlings in flight is making the rounds as the latest viral meme. If someone mentions the video and you want to show off, there are plenty of factlets to throw out (starlings mimic car alarms and human speech in their calls, starling flocks are so huge in the spring in Denmark that they're referred to as the "Black Sun"), but here's our favorite:

In the late 19th century, a Shakespeare lover named Eugene Schieffelin wanted to bring every bird mentioned in the Bard's plays to the United States. Unfortunately for other birds and most bird lovers, a fanciful line in "Henry IV, Part I" mentioned starlings -- the bullies of bird-dom. Schieffelin released 60 starlings in Central Park in 1890 and another 40 in 1891. To say they spread quickly is an understatement. "They're all over," says Bruce Horwith, a director at the South Fork chapter of the Nature Conservancy. More than 200 million now live from Northern Canada to Mexico.

The Shakespeare line, by the way, is: "The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I'll holler 'Mortimer!' Nay, I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion."