American Acclimatization Society

The American Acclimatization Society was a group founded in New York City in 1871 dedicated to introducing European flora and fauna into North America for both economic and cultural reasons. The group's charter explained its goal was to introduce "such foreign varieties of the animal and vegetable kingdom as may be useful or interesting." The society's efforts had a powerful impact on the natural history of North America, particularly due to its success in introducing invasive bird species.[1]

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A flock of starlings in Denmark. Flocks of this size and larger are common in North America following the American Acclimatization Society's successful introduction of the species in the 19th century.


In 1854, the Société zoologique d'acclimatation was founded in Paris by French naturalist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, whose 1849 treatise Acclimatation et domestication des animaux utiles ("Acclimatization and Domestication of Useful Animals") had urged the French government to introduce, and when necessary selectively breed, foreign animals both to provide meat and to control pests. The group inspired the formation of similar groups around the world, particularly in countries that had been colonized by Europeans.[2]


Even before the American society's founding, wealthy New York residents and naturalists had deliberately sought to introduce foreign animals. In 1864 the commissioners of Central Park had introduced Java sparrows, house sparrows, chaffinches and blackbirds into the park. The European sparrows were reported to have "multiplied amazingly". They quickly became one of the most common birds in New York, though the others did not seem to do as well. After the society's founding, such efforts were redoubled. The group's annual meeting held at the Great New York Aquarium in 1877[3] reported that the release of 50 pairs of English skylarks into Central Park had only been a partial success, since most had flown across the East River to take up residence at Newtown and Canarsie in Brooklyn. At the meeting, the recent release of European starlings, Japanese finches and pheasants into the park were noted. The meeting adjourned with the group resolved to introduce more chaffinches, skylarks, European robins and tits—"birds which were useful to the farmer and contributed to the beauty of the groves and fields"—in the city.[4]

Shakespeare's birds

By 1877 New York pharmacist Eugene Schieffelin was the chairman of the society. Another notable member of the society was wealthy silk merchant Alfred Edwards, who constructed bird boxes around Manhattan to help house sparrows to breed.

But it was Schieffelin, an avid admirer of Shakespeare, who was the society's driving force. Some accounts of his efforts claim that he had resolved that as an aesthetic goal, the organization should introduce every bird species mentioned in the Bard's works. Other accounts say this is unproven, pointing out that no contemporary source corroborates this claim of a link to Shakespeare.[5] The society's wildest success was with the European starling. The bird appears in Henry IV, Part 1 when Hotspur considers using its vocal talents to drive the king mad. Since King Henry was refusing to pay a ransom to release his disloyal brother-in-law Edmund Mortimer, Hotspur says: "I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but 'Mortimer', and give it him, to keep his anger still in motion."

The American poet William Cullen Bryant admired Schieffelin's efforts and wrote his poem The Olde-World Sparrow ("A winged settler has taken his place/With Teutons and Men of the Celtic race") after spending an evening with Schieffelin, who had just released a shipment of sparrows into his yard.[6] Schieffelin himself is seen by modern biologists as "an eccentric at best, a lunatic at worst."[7] The society's effort to introduce Shakespeare's birds into New York's public parks was described as "infamous" by the ecologist John Marzluff, who also called the establishment of a breeding population of starlings the society's "most notorious introduction." Marzluff writes that the motives of the 19th-century acclimatization enthusiasts were largely cultural: "Western European settlers introduced many species throughout the world because they wanted birds from their homelands in their new environs."[8]

Impact and the starlings

Though some starlings had been released before the society was founded, they had not become well established and in 1890 and 1891, 100 more were released. By the early 21st century, more than 200 million European starlings had spread throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada. Their aggressive competition for nesting cavities has long been thought to be responsible for the collapse of some native bird populations, among them New York's state bird, the eastern bluebird, though some research has found that this is unlikely, except in the case of sapsuckers.[9] The US government still believes the starlings' competition for nesting cavities is harmful to native bird populations and says they also cause crop damage.[10]

Largely because of the spread of the European starling, a 2007 article in the San Francisco Chronicle (deriding the introduction of fallow deer to the Point Reyes National Seashore) called the society "the canonic cautionary tale of biological pollution."[11]

The raucous starling remains one of the most publicly reviled of North America's invasive species, and has been blamed for helping to spread invasive plants like English Ivy and disrupting air traffic when in large flocks..[12]

See also


  1. ^ Review of Tinkering With Eden: A Natural History of Exotics in America from Discover Magazine, January 2001
  2. ^ The History of Soy Pioneers Around the World
  3. ^ "City and Suburban News". The New York Times. 13 March 1877. A meeting of the American Acclimatization Society will be held at tile rooms of the New-York Aquarium, Broadway and Thirty-Fifth-street, tomorrow evening.
  4. ^ American Acclimatization Society, New York Times, November 15, 1877
  5. ^ Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back, pp. 152-155, (New York: Vintage Books, 1997)
  6. ^ Tinkering With Eden pg. 138, Kim Todd, W.W. Norton & Company
  7. ^ Tinkering With Eden pg. 137, Kim Todd, W.W. Norton & Company
  8. ^ Urban Ecology pg. 406, John M. Marzluff, Spring (publisher)
  9. ^ Mirsky, Steve (May 23, 2008). "Shakespeare to Blame for Introduction of European Starlings to U.S." Scientific American Magazine. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  10. ^ US Department of Agriculture's "invasive species" listing for the European Starling
  11. ^ Easy Target: There's a plan afoot to eradicate the white fallow deer in Point Reyes San Francisco Chronicle, CM-6, May 6, 2007
  12. ^ Invasive species in the Pacific Northwest pg. 180, P. Dee Boersma, Sarah H. Reichard, Amy N. Van Buren, University of Washington Press
Acclimatisation society

Acclimatisation societies were voluntary associations in the 19th and 20th centuries that encouraged the introduction of non-native species in various places around the world with the hope of their acclimatisation and adaptation. The motivation at the time was a sense that introducing these species of plants and animals would enrich the flora and fauna of a region. These societies were born during a period of colonialism when Europeans began to settle in unfamiliar environments, and the movement sought to establish familiar plants and animals (mainly from Europe) in new areas while also bringing exotic and useful foreign plants and animals into the European centres. Today it is widely understood that introducing species can be harmful to native species and their ecosystems; for example, in Australia plants were harmed by rabbits' overgrazing; in North America house sparrows displace and kill native birds; and around the world, salamander populations are today threatened by introduced fungal infections. At the time of acclimatisation societies, however, this was insufficiently understood.

A definition of acclimatisation was attempted by Alfred Russel Wallace in his entry in the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1911). Here Wallace tried to differentiate the idea from other terms like domestication and naturalization. He noted that a domesticated animal could live in environments controlled by humans. Naturalization, he suggested included the process of acclimatization which involved "gradual adjustment". The idea, at least in France, was associated with Lamarckism and Wallace noted that there were some like Charles Darwin who denied the possibility of forcing individual animals to adjust. Wallace however pointed out that there was the possibility that there were variations among individuals and that some could have the ability to adapt to new environments.

Brook trout

The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is a species of freshwater fish in the char genus Salvelinus of the salmon family Salmonidae. It is native to Eastern North America in the United States and Canada, but has been introduced elsewhere in North America, as well as to Iceland, Europe, and Asia. In parts of its range, it is also known as the eastern brook trout, speckled trout, brook charr, squaretail, or mud trout, among others. A potamodromous population in Lake Superior, as well as an anadromous population in Maine, is known as coaster trout or, simply, as coasters. The brook trout is the state fish of nine U.S. states: Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia, and the Provincial Fish of Nova Scotia in Canada.

Common starling

The common starling (Sturnus vulgaris), also known as the European starling, or in the British Isles just the starling, is a medium-sized passerine bird in the starling family, Sturnidae. It is about 20 cm (8 in) long and has glossy black plumage with a metallic sheen, which is speckled with white at some times of year. The legs are pink and the bill is black in winter and yellow in summer; young birds have browner plumage than the adults. It is a noisy bird, especially in communal roosts and other gregarious situations, with an unmusical but varied song. Its gift for mimicry has been noted in literature including the Mabinogion and the works of Pliny the Elder and William Shakespeare.

The common starling has about a dozen subspecies breeding in open habitats across its native range in temperate Europe and western Asia, and it has been introduced to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, South Africa and Fiji. This bird is resident in southern and western Europe and southwestern Asia, while northeastern populations migrate south and west in winter within the breeding range and also further south to Iberia and North Africa. The common starling builds an untidy nest in a natural or artificial cavity in which four or five glossy, pale blue eggs are laid. These take two weeks to hatch and the young remain in the nest for another three weeks. There are normally one or two breeding attempts each year. This species is omnivorous, taking a wide range of invertebrates, as well as seeds and fruit. It is hunted by various mammals and birds of prey, and is host to a range of external and internal parasites.

Large flocks typical of this species can be beneficial to agriculture by controlling invertebrate pests; however, starlings can also be pests themselves when they feed on fruit and sprouting crops. Common starlings may also be a nuisance through the noise and mess caused by their large urban roosts. Introduced populations in particular have been subjected to a range of controls, including culling, but these have had limited success except in preventing the colonisation of Western Australia.

The species has declined in numbers in parts of northern and western Europe since the 1980s due to fewer grassland invertebrates being available as food for growing chicks. Despite this, its huge global population is not thought to be declining significantly, so the common starling is classified as being of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Eugene Schieffelin

Eugene Schieffelin (January 29, 1827 – August 15, 1906) was an American amateur ornithologist who belonged to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the New York Zoological Society. He was responsible for introducing the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) to North America.

Introduced species

An introduced species, alien species, exotic species, foreign species, non-indigenous species, or non-native species is a species living outside its native distributional range, but which has arrived there by human activity, either deliberate or accidental. Non-native species can have various effects on the local ecosystem. Introduced species that become established and spread beyond the place of introduction are called invasive species.

The impact of introduced species is highly variable. Some have a negative effect on a local ecosystem, while other introduced species may have no negative effect or only minor impact. Some species have been introduced intentionally to combat pests. They are called biocontrols and may be regarded as beneficial as an alternative to pesticides in agriculture for example. In some instances the potential for being beneficial or detrimental in the long run remains unknown.The effects of introduced species on natural environments have gained much scrutiny from scientists, governments, farmers, and others.


Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds in the family Sturnidae. The name "Sturnidae" comes from the Latin word for starling, sturnus. Many Asian species, particularly the larger ones, are called mynas, and many African species are known as glossy starlings because of their iridescent plumage. Starlings are native to Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as northern Australia and the islands of the tropical Pacific. Several European and Asian species have been introduced to these areas as well as North America, Hawaii and New Zealand, where they generally compete for habitats with native birds and are considered to be invasive species. The starling species familiar to most people in Europe and North America is the common starling, and throughout much of Asia and the Pacific, the common myna is indeed common.

Starlings have strong feet, their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat is fairly open country, and they eat insects and fruit. Several species live around human habitation and are effectively omnivores. Many species search for prey such as grubs by "open-bill probing", that is, forcefully opening the bill after inserting it into a crevice, thus expanding the hole and exposing the prey; this behaviour is referred to by the German verb zirkeln (pronounced [ˈtsɪɐ̯kl̩n]).Plumage of many species is typically dark with a metallic sheen. Most species nest in holes and lay blue or white eggs.

Starlings have diverse and complex vocalizations and have been known to embed sounds from their surroundings into their own calls, including car alarms and human speech patterns. The birds can recognize particular individuals by their calls and are the subject of research into the evolution of human language.

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