Historical Bird Guide
credit: detail of photo by Zeynel Cebeci, wikimedia commons

Meet the Birds:
Historical Field Guide
to Some of the Songbirds
Introduced into North America

Frederick L. Brown, Ph.D.

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House Sparrow
In nineteenth-century Europe, house sparrows (Passer domesticus) were "the boldest and most familiar" of songbirds, found nesting in trees, thatch roofs, wall-holes, or under eaves, rarely venturing to remote areas far from houses. They frequented farmers' field for grain. They were introduced from Europe to the United States and Canada more than twenty separate times from 1851 to 1875, and also transported from place to place within North America dozens of times thereafter. They reached the West Coast by the early twentieth century. (photo: Ltshears, wikimedia commons)


European Starling
In nineteenth-century Europe, starlings (Turdus vulgaris) nested in tree-holes, as well as under chimneys and roofs. They frequented farms, often perching on cattle and sheep. Farmers welcomed their taste for grubs and insects, yet rued their fancy for cherries and other fruits. Their skill as a mimic made them a favorite caged bird. They were introduced in Cincinnati in 1873, in New York City in 1877, 1889, 1890, and 1891, and in Portland, Oreg., in 1889 and 1891. Only the New York starling population from 1889-1891 survived, eventually reaching the West Coast by the 1940s. (photo: Deepak Sundar, wikimedia commons)


European Robin
In nineteenth-century Europe, European robins (Erithacus rubecula) might build their bulky nests on the ground, hidden by hedges, bushes, or grass, on a mossy bank, in a hole in a wall, or in a discarded kettle. They were especially beloved, both for their tameness around humans and their song. They were introduced in New York in 1872, in Cincinnati in 1873, and in Portland, Oreg., in 1889 and 1891. All these populations died out. (photo: Francis C. Franklin, wikimedia commons)


Eurasian Skylark
In nineteenth-century Europe, Eurasian skylarks (Alauda arvensis) were well-known for performing their song high in the air. They nested on the ground in hay fields, grain fields, and pasture, feeding in winter, on grain and weed-seeds in stubble-fields. They were beloved for their song, and often kept as caged birds, but also hunted for meat. They were introduced in Brooklyn in 1846, in Wilmington, Del., and Washington, D.C., in 1853, in New York and Cincinnati in 1874, in Portland, Oreg., in 1889, and Vancouver Island in 1903 and 1913, and possibly in Santa Barbara in 1896 and Portland in 1906 and 1907. Only the Vancouver Island population survives today. (photo: Daniel Pettersson, wikimedia commons)

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Banner photo: detail from photo by Zeynel Cebeci, wikimedia commons
Last updated October 2021