Tag Archives: Birds of Shakespeare

Scrap Book Project – Ornithology, Blackbirds and Sweden

An early piece of artwork c1960

I am going to begin with a warning.  It is a word of caution about the sudden acquisition of new and unlikely interests.  I was sure that this could not possibly happen to me but I have been struck down with a chronic interest in wild birds.

I have become a twitcher!  and it happened so quickly and without warning so I was powerless to resist it.  It has become so bad that I now even look out for Bill Oddie programmes on the television (Springwatch, Autumnwatch, How to Watch Wildlife, Wild In Your Garden, Birding with Bill Oddie, Britain Goes Wild with Bill Oddie and Bill Oddie Goes Wild) and not so long ago I would have preferred to boil my own head rather than watch a Bill Oddie programme.

When I was a boy I used to collect Brooke Bond tea cards and diligently stick them in an album, even then one of my least favourite collections was British Birds because it was just so dull.  I preferred the African Wild Life and the Asian Wild Life collections because they were colourful and exciting, I think I even quite liked the Tropical Birds set but British Birds, for me, were always such a disappointment.

One day in March I was doing a little early shrub pruning in the garden and I was tackling an overgrown and scruffy specimen that is attached to the garden shed.  I was working in a frenzy, slashing away and cutting back indiscriminately, when my efforts revealed an obviously recently constructed bird’s nest.  I was sorry about that because where it had been carefully concealed in the labyrinth of twigs and leaves it was now dangerously exposed to the elements and potential predators.  At this stage no one seemed to be occupying the nest but I kept an eye on it for any sign of activity and began to see a pair of blackbirds flying in and out quite regularly.  Goodness knows what they thought about the rearrangements that I had made to their front door but I was pleased that it hadn’t scared them away.

Then one day it happened.  This was the day that I crossed over and I became hopelessly hooked.  I had been making regular inspections but on this day I was elated to discover three shiny blue speckled eggs in the moss at the bottom of the nest.  Because of my habitat vandalism I decided that this pair of birds was my special responsibility and I started to provide food so that they wouldn’t have to go far away from the nest that I had uncovered to the world.

I carried out some research and was surprised to learn that these eggs could be hatched in about three weeks so I increased my nest inspections to twice a day in anticipation of the happy event and was overjoyed one day to find some baby chicks lying pathetic and vulnerable in the bottom of the nest.  After that I stayed away for fear of frightening away the adults but I needn’t have worried and they stayed around and were happy enough to accept the food that I was regularly putting out for them.

The male quickly became the boss of the back garden becoming increasingly territorial and chasing away other birds that were bold enough to venture in to share the bread and raisins that I was providing and the pair of them kept up a frenetic level of activity going backwards and forwards to the nest to keep the little ones fed.  I was surprised how quickly they grew and very soon there was a serious overcrowding problem in the nest with three fat chicks competing for their share of a very restricted space.

Then in April I was away for a few days and upon return was disappointed to find that they had gone, not even a thank you note left behind and I was sad that I had missed their first flight, I had been looking forward to it as though I was a parent myself waiting for a child to take its first steps.

See, I told you that I was hooked!

An interesting fact about the Blackbird is that it is the national bird of Sweden and although many World countries have national birds this is the only one, apart from the English Robin, that I can find that has chosen a bird that I have found in my garden.  Many countries, especially in the tropics prefer colourful specimens like parrots for their national bird, the French have the Cockerel and the USA has the Bald Eagle and others too like to choose something spectacular and powerful.  The most common national bird is the Golden Eagle which is claimed by Austria and Germany, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Scotland.

In the Middle Ages and right up to Shakespeare’s time the blackbird was known by the distinctive old English name of the Ouzel, Ousel or Wosle and it is a pity that this has become obsolete, though it may still be referred to as such in Scotland.  The first recorded usage of blackbird was in 1486 and even though there are bigger black birds in medieval England such as the Crow, Raven, Rook or Jackdaw, these were previously regarded as fowl so the Ouzel was simply the largest black bird at that time.  In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare describes the bird as ‘The Woosell cocke, so blacke of hew, With Orenge-tawny bill’.

Also, north of the border, where linguistic relics of the old alliance with France still remain, the blackbird is sometimes known by its French name of le Merle.  A Blackbird is el Mirlo in Spanish and il Merlo in Italian; all of which are from the Latin Merula by the way.

My dad knew all about birds and when he was young he kept a journal of British species in an exercise book.  This was his blackbird page…

_____________________________________________

Other posts about birds:

Blackbirds

Collared Doves

Dunnock

Fat Balls

Mozart’s Starling

Robin

Seagull

Starlings

Starlings in the USA

Vinkensetting

_____________________________________________

Ornithology, Blackbirds and Sweden

An early piece of artwork c1960

I am going to begin with a warning.  It is a word of caution about the sudden acquisition of new and unlikely interests.  I was sure that this could not possibly happen to me but I have been struck down with a chronic interest in wild birds.

I have become a twitcher!  and it happened so quickly and without warning so I was powerless to resist it.  It has become so bad that I now even look out for Bill Oddie programmes on the television (Springwatch, Autumnwatch, How to Watch Wildlife, Wild In Your Garden, Birding with Bill Oddie, Britain Goes Wild with Bill Oddie and Bill Oddie Goes Wild) and not so long ago I would have preferred to boil my own head rather than watch a Bill Oddie programme.

When I was a boy I used to collect Brooke Bond tea cards and diligently stick them in an album, even then one of my least favourite collections was British Birds because it was just so dull.  I preferred the African Wild Life and the Asian Wild Life collections because they were colourful and exciting, I think I even quite liked the Tropical Birds set but British Birds, for me, were always such a disappointment.

One day in March I was doing a little early shrub pruning in the garden and I was tackling an overgrown and scruffy specimen that is attached to the garden shed.  I was working in a frenzy, slashing away and cutting back indiscriminately, when my efforts revealed an obviously recently constructed bird’s nest.  I was sorry about that because where it had been carefully concealed in the labyrinth of twigs and leaves it was now dangerously exposed to the elements and potential predators.  At this stage no one seemed to be occupying the nest but I kept an eye on it for any sign of activity and began to see a pair of blackbirds flying in and out quite regularly.  Goodness knows what they thought about the rearrangements that I had made to their front door but I was pleased that it hadn’t scared them away.

Then one day it happened.  This was the day that I crossed over and I became hopelessly hooked.  I had been making regular inspections but on this day I was elated to discover three shiny blue speckled eggs in the moss at the bottom of the nest.  Because of my habitat vandalism I decided that this pair of birds was my special responsibility and I started to provide food so that they wouldn’t have to go far away from the nest that I had uncovered to the world.

I carried out some research and was surprised to learn that these eggs could be hatched in about three weeks so I increased my nest inspections to twice a day in anticipation of the happy event and was overjoyed one day to find some baby chicks lying pathetic and vulnerable in the bottom of the nest.  After that I stayed away for fear of frightening away the adults but I needn’t have worried and they stayed around and were happy enough to accept the food that I was regularly putting out for them.

The male quickly became the boss of the back garden becoming increasingly territorial and chasing away other birds that were bold enough to venture in to share the bread and raisins that I was providing and the pair of them kept up a frenetic level of activity going backwards and forwards to the nest to keep the little ones fed.  I was surprised how quickly they grew and very soon there was a serious overcrowding problem in the nest with three fat chicks competing for their share of a very restricted space.

Then in April I was away for a few days and upon return was disappointed to find that they had gone, not even a thank you note left behind and I was sad that I had missed their first flight, I had been looking forward to it as though I was a parent myself waiting for a child to take its first steps.

See, I told you that I was hooked!

An interesting fact about the Blackbird is that it is the national bird of Sweden and although many World countries have national birds this is the only one, apart from the English Robin, that I can find that has chosen a bird that I have found in my garden.  Many countries, especially in the tropics prefer colourful specimens like parrots for their national bird, the French have the Cockerel and the USA has the Bald Eagle and others too like to choose something spectacular and powerful.  The most common national bird is the Golden Eagle which is claimed by Austria and Germany, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Scotland.

In the Middle Ages and right up to Shakespeare’s time the blackbird was known by the distinctive old English name of the Ouzel, Ousel or Wosle and it is a pity that this has become obsolete, though it may still be referred to as such in Scotland.  The first recorded usage of blackbird was in 1486 and even though there are bigger black birds in medieval England such as the Crow, Raven, Rook or Jackdaw, these were previously regarded as fowl so the Ouzel was simply the largest black bird at that time.  In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare describes the bird as ‘The Woosell cocke, so blacke of hew, With Orenge-tawny bill’.

Also, north of the border, where linguistic relics of the old alliance with France still remain, the blackbird is sometimes known by its French name of le Merle.  A Blackbird is el Mirlo in Spanish and il Merlo in Italian; all of which are from the Latin Merula by the way.

My dad knew all about birds and when he was young he kept a journal of British species in an exercise book.  This is his blackbird page…

_____________________________________________

Other posts about birds:

Blackbirds

Collared Doves

Dunnock

Fat Balls

Mozart’s Starling

Robin

Seagull

Starlings

Starlings in the USA

Vinkensetting

_____________________________________________

Eugene Schieffelin and Starlings in the USA

The European Starling is resident in the US because in 1890, a wealthy American businessman, Eugene Schieffelin, introduced sixty Starlings into New York Central Park and then another forty the following year.  In doing so he radically and irreversibly altered America’s bird population because today European Starlings range from Alaska to Florida and even into Mexico, and their population is estimated at over two hundred million.

In the USA they don’t much care for Starlings and these web pages explain exactly why:

http://icwdm.org/handbook/birds/EuropeanStarlings.asp

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/09/01/opinion/100-years-of-the-starling.html

Schieffelin was an interesting man who belonged to the Acclimation Society of North America, a group with the seemingly laudable, if misguided, aim of aiding the exchange of plants and animals from one part of the world to another.  In the nineteenth century, such societies were fashionable and were supported by the scientific knowledge and beliefs of an era that had no way of understanding the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem.

Actually some recent revisionist thinking has concluded that the introduction of the Starling was perhaps not as devastating has had previously been suggested and one thing is certain and that is that is was not nearly so thoughtless as the introduction of the European rabbit to the continent of Australia in 1859 by a certain Thomas Austin who wanted them for his hunting hobby.

The effect of rabbits on the ecology of  Australia has been truly devastating and entirely due to the rabbit one eighth of all mammalian species in Australia are now extinct  and the loss of plant species is at present uncalculated.  They have established themselves as Australia’s biggest pest and annually cause millions of dollars of damage to agriculture.  The introduction of the rabbit was an ecological mistake on a monumental scale!

When he wasn’t tinkering with the environment Eugene Schieffelin was busy joining clubs and societies and his obituary in the New York Times in 1906 listed his membership of The New York Genealogical and Biographic Society, The New York Zoological Society, The Society of Colonial Wars, The St. Nicholas Club, the St. Nicholas Society and the Union Club of New York which in the 1870’s was generally regarded as the richest club in the world.  Obviously Schieffelin had too much money and too much time on his hands!

Starlings

An alternative theory behind the introduction of the European Starling is often quoted but is probably not true.  It is said that he belonged to a group dedicated to introducing into America all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works because they imagined the sound of Shakespeare’s birds warbling their old world songs on the tree branches of America.

If this were true he must have been unusually familiar with the works of the Elizabethan bard because Shakespeare’s sole reference to the starling appears in King Henry IV, part 1 (Act 1, scene 3): “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer.’”

As well as the Starling Schieffelin was also responsible for introducing the House Sparrow, which was released into Brooklyn in New York, in 1851 and by 1900 had spread as far as the Rocky Mountains and is today common across the entire continent.  The sparrow too is regarded as a pest as it is in Australia where it was introduced at roughly the same time, paradoxically as an experiment in pest control.  How badly wrong can an experiment go I wonder?

Schieffelin wasn’t always successful however and his attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks were not successful.

Interestingly the House Sparrow gets four mentions in Shakespeare’s works, in Hamlet, As You Like It, The Tempest and Troilus and Cressida.  The full list of avian references in the works of Shakespeare were researched by the Scottish geologist Sir Archibald Geikie and recorded in his book published in 1916, ‘The Birds of Shakespeare’.

They are theBlackbird, Bunting, Buzzard, Chough, Cock, Cormorant, Crow, Cuckoo, Dive-dapper, Dove and Pigeon, Duck, Eagle, Falcon and Sparrowhawk, Finch, Goose, Hedge Sparrow, House Martin, Jackdaw, Jay, Kite, Lapwing, Lark, Loon, Magpie, Nightingale, Osprey, Ostrich, Owl, Parrot, Partridge, Peacock, Pelican, Pheasant, Quail, Raven, Robin, Snipe, Sparrow, Starling, Swallow, Swan, Thrush, Turkey, Vulture, Wagtail, Woodcock and the Wren.

 

Some people research some very strange things!

A Life in a Year – 29th January, Eugene Schieffelin and Starlings in the USA

The European Starling is resident in the US because in 1890, a wealthy American businessman, Eugene Schieffelin (born 29th January 1827), introduced sixty Starlings into New York Central Park and then another forty the following year.  In doing so he radically and irreversibly altered America’s bird population because today European Starlings range from Alaska to Florida and even into Mexico, and their population is estimated at over two hundred million.

In the USA they don’t much care for Starlings and these web pages explain exactly why:

http://icwdm.org/handbook/birds/EuropeanStarlings.asp

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/09/01/opinion/100-years-of-the-starling.html

Schieffelin was an interesting man who belonged to the Acclimation Society of North America, a group with the seemingly laudable, if misguided, aim of aiding the exchange of plants and animals from one part of the world to another.  In the nineteenth century, such societies were fashionable and were supported by the scientific knowledge and beliefs of an era that had no way of understanding the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem.

Actually some recent revisionist thinking has concluded that the introduction of the Starling was perhaps not as devastating has had previously been suggested and one thing is certain and that is that is was not nearly so thoughtless as the introduction of the European rabbit to the continent of Australia in 1859 by a certain Thomas Austin who wanted them for his hunting hobby.  The effect of rabbits on the ecology of  Australia has been truly devastating and entirely due to the rabbit one eighth of all mammalian species in Australia are now extinct  and the loss of plant species is at present uncalculated.  They have established themselves as Australia’s biggest pest and annually cause millions of dollars of damage to agriculture.  The introduction of the rabbit was an ecological mistake on a monumental scale!

When he wasn’t tinkering with the environment Eugene Schieffelin liked joining clubs and societies and his obituary in the New York Times in 1906 listed his membership of The New York Genealogical and Biographic Society, The New York Zoological Society, The Society of Colonial Wars, The St. Nicholas Club, the St. Nicholas Society and the Union Club of New York which in the 1870’s was generally regarded as the richest club in the world.  Obviously Schieffelin had too much money and too much time on his hands!

An alternative theory behind the introduction of the European Starling is often quoted but is probably not true.  It is said that he belonged to a group dedicated to introducing into America all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works because they imagined the sound of Shakespeare’s birds warbling their old world songs on the tree branches of America.  If this were true he must have been unusually familiar with the works of the Elizabethan bard because Shakespeare’s sole reference to the starling appears in King Henry IV, part 1 (Act 1, scene 3): “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer.’”

As well as the Starling Schieffelin was also responsible for introducing the House Sparrow, which was released into Brooklyn in New York, in 1851 and by 1900 had spread as far as the Rocky Mountains and is today common across the entire continent.  The sparrow too is regarded as a pest as it is in Australia where it was introduced at roughly the same time, paradoxically as an experiment in pest control.  How badly wrong can an experiment go I wonder?

Schieffelin wasn’t always successful however and his attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks were not successful.

Interestingly the House Sparrow gets four mentions in Shakespeare’s works, in Hamlet, As You Like It, The Tempest and Troilus and Cressida.  The full list of avian references in the works of Shakespeare were researched by the Scottish geologist Sir Archibald Geikie and recorded in his book published in 1916, ‘The Birds of Shakespeare’ and they are the Blackbird, Bunting, Buzzard, Chough, Cock, Cormorant, Crow, Cuckoo, Dive-dapper, Dove and Pigeon, Duck, Eagle, Falcon and Sparrowhawk, Finch, Goose, Hedge Sparrow, House Martin, Jackdaw, Jay, Kite, Lapwing, Lark, Loon, Magpie, Nightingale, Osprey, Ostrich, Owl, Parrot, Partridge, Peacock, Pelican, Pheasant, Quail, Raven, Robin, Snipe, Sparrow, Starling, Swallow, Swan, Thrush, Turkey, Vulture, Wagtail, Woodcock and the Wren.

 

Some people research some very strange things!