The European starling is a major pest in North America today thanks to Eugene Schieffelin, a well-intentioned but misguided Shakespeare fan from Germany. On this day in 1890, Schieffelin let loose 60 starlings into New York’s Central Park in an attempt to introduce all of the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare to the United States. (“Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer,’” says Hotspur in Henry IV, Part 1.)
The birds multiplied and now number more than 200 million in North America, where they wreak daily havoc in tree trunks (they steal nest holes made by other birds), on dairy farms (they steal grain feed meant for cows), and even at airports (they’re prone to flying into plane engines). Agriculturists today consider the starling one of the costliest and most invasive species on the continent.