Watching, Attracting and Feeding Birds in New York
with Sam Crowe
Meet the Long-billed Curlew
We are stepping out of the backyard with this featured bird - the magnificent Long-billed Curlew. This large shorebird is cinnamon above and buff below. It has a very long and distinctive bill which it uses to probe for food. Shorebirds can be hard to identify but the Long-billed Curlew really stands out.
Like several shorebird species, it is often seen far from the shore. Nesting occurs in wet and dry uplands in the western U.S. In winter it migrates to the California and Texas coasts and into Mexico.
Long-billed Curlews are very sensitive to disturbance during the nesting season. They defend nesting territories, but frequently forage outside of the territory.
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It's Shakespeare's Fault
Birds mentioned in Shakespeare's plays introduced into the U.S. with very bad results.
There are about 200 million European Starlings now in the United States. They do millions of dollars of damage to crops each year and take over nest sites from bluebirds, woodpeckers and other species. They are great competitors but as with many introduced species, detrimental to commerce and native species.
Steven Marche explains in How Shakespeare Changed Everything how it all happened.
"On March 6, 1890, a New York pharmaceutical manufacturer name Eugene Schieffelin brought natural disaster into the U.S. without meaning to. Through the morning snow, which congealed at times to sleet, sixty starlings, imported at great expense from Europe, accompanied Schieffelin on the ride from his country house into Central Park—the noisy, dirty fulfillment of his plan to introduce every bird mentioned by Shakespeare into North America."
Schieffelin loved Shakespeare and he loved birds. The American Acclimatization Society, to which he belonged, had released other avian species found in Shakespeare—the nightingales and skylarks more commonly mentioned in his plays and poems—but none had survived. There was no reason to believe that starlings would fare any better. Schieffelin opened the cages and released the birds into the new world, without the smallest notion of what he was unleashing.