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The Unintended Beauty of Starlings

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Eugene Schieffelin was the eccentric ornithologist who in 1890 shipped 60 starlings from London to New York City and set them free in Central Park. The next year he released 40 more, and today there are maybe 200 million starlings in the United States and Southern Canada. As immigrants go, starlings are shrewd flyers, clever mimics, and often unwelcome. The truth is they’re no more than uptown blackbirds, stocky, three-ounce grifters with iridescent blue and green plumage, along with yellow beaks and a long history of displacing woodpeckers and flycatchers, and destroying entire crops of berries and cherries. Not to mention the havoc they cause at many airports.

Ah, but when they come round in their murmurations on fall afternoons, or in early winter, what magicianry is that, gathering up out of nowhere, arriving in strands or massive clusters, over inlets or forests. You’ll see them fill up neighboring trees and fall into an oily, high-pitched chatter. Sooner or later, they settle and fall silent, like an orchestra before the first note. And then—the most subtle spooking will do it, a dog’s bark, the slam of a car door down the street, or nothing at all, and off they go at 50 miles per hour, wheeling around the countryside, sheets and sheets of them, thickening and thinning, blackening and scattering, merging and splitting, sometimes looking like a tornado cloud, or else some strange omen, and it’ll go on for 15 minutes or more, a merry band thrashing through the sky in vast clouds of star-shaped dots, like the vanishing images on a Buddha board.

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Photo from Coatesy / Shutterstock.

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Click the link below for the article:

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-unintended-beauty-of-starlings?utm_source=pocket_discover

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