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Eugene Schieffelin

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Eugene Schieffelin
Born(1827-01-29)January 29, 1827
DiedAugust 15, 1906(1906-08-15) (aged 79)
SpouseCatherine Tonnelé Hall
RelativesSamuel Schieffelin (brother)
Bradhurst Schieffelin (brother)

Eugene Schieffelin (January 29, 1827 – August 15, 1906)[1] was an American amateur ornithologist who belonged to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the New York Zoological Society. In 1877, he became chairman of the American Acclimatization Society and joined their efforts to introduce non-native species to North America for economic and cultural reasons. His 1890 release of European starlings in Central Park resulted in the first successful starling nesting in North America to be observed by naturalists.

In the decades after his death, Schiefflin was recast as being solely responsible for the introduction of starlings, and in 1948, Edwin Way Teale claimed (without evidence) that he had been motivated by a desire to introduce all of Shakespeare's birds to North America.[2]

Early life[edit]

Schieffelin was born in New York City on January 29, 1827.[3] He was the seventh son of Henry Hamilton Schieffelin (1783–1865) and Maria Theresa (née Bradhurst) Schieffelin (1786–1872).[4] His father, a prominent lawyer, was named in honor of Governor Henry Hamilton for whom his grandfather Jacob Schieffelin served as secretary for during the American Revolutionary War.[5] Among his siblings was author Samuel Schieffelin,[6] and Bradhurst Schieffelin, a supporter of the People's Party.[7] The Schieffelin family was one of the oldest families in Manhattan.[8]

Starling release[edit]

Schieffelin belonged to the American Acclimatization Society, a group that aimed to help exchange plants and animals from one part of the world to another.[9] In the 19th century, such acclimatization societies were fashionable and supported by the scientific knowledge and beliefs of that era, as the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem was not yet known.

In 1890, Schieffelin released 60 imported starlings from England into New York City's Central Park.[10][11] He did the same with another 40 birds in 1891. According to an oft-repeated story, Schieffelin supposedly introduced starlings as part of a project to bring to the United States all the birds mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.[12][13][14] Some historians have cast doubt on this story, as no record of it exists until the 1940s.[15][16][2] He may have also been trying to control the same pests that had been annoying him thirty years earlier, when he sponsored the introduction of the house sparrow to North America.[17]

Schieffelin's efforts were part of multiple releases of starlings in the United States, ranging from the mid-1870s through the mid-1890s.[2] The successful spread of starlings has come at the expense of many native birds that compete with the starling for nest holes in trees.[18] The starlings have also had negative impact on the US economy and ecosystem.[19] European starlings are now considered an invasive species in the United States.[20]

His attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks were not successful.

Personal life[edit]

Schieffelin was married to Catherine Tonnelé Hall (d. 1910). Catherine was a daughter of Valentine Gill Hall, an Irish immigrant, and Susan (née Tonnelé) Hall and the sister of Valentine Hall Jr., a banker and merchant who was the grandfather of Eleanor Roosevelt. Catherine's uncle was John Tonnelé Jr., the farmer and politician who was a member of the New Jersey State Legislature.[21]

Schieffelin died at the Hartshorn villa in Newport, Rhode Island on August 15, 1906.[1]


  1. ^ a b "EUGENE SCHIEFFELIN DEAD. Succumbs to Paralysis at Newport After an Illness of Three Weeks" (PDF). The New York Times. August 16, 1906. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Fugate, Lauren; Miller, John MacNeill (November 1, 2021). "Shakespeare's Starlings: Literary History and the Fictions of Invasiveness". Environmental Humanities. 13 (2): 301–322. doi:10.1215/22011919-9320167. ISSN 2201-1919. S2CID 243468840. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  3. ^ Matthews, John (1907). Matthews' American Armoury and Blue Book. Crest Publishing Company. p. 175. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  4. ^ Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York (1905). The Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York: History, Customs, Record of Events, Constitution, Certain Genealogies, and Other Matters of Interest. V. 1-. p. 142. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  5. ^ "Hamilton, Henry, d. 1796. Henry Hamilton papers: Guide". oasis.lib.harvard.edu. Harvard University. Archived from the original on 3 July 2018. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  6. ^ "Samuel Bradhurst Schieffelin Dead". The New York Times. September 14, 1900. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  7. ^ Wilson & Fiske 1900.
  8. ^ Reynolds, Cuyler (1914). Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. p. 1299. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  9. ^ "American Acclimatization Society". The New York Times. November 15, 1877. p. 2.
  10. ^ Rosenzweig, Roy & Blackmar, Elizabeth (1992). The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Cornell University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-8014-9751-5.
  11. ^ "Edenwald Playground Highlights". www.nycgovparks.org. New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  12. ^ Teale, Edwin (1948). Days Without Time: Adventures of a Naturalist. New York: Dodd, Mead. p. 17.
  13. ^ Todd, Kim (2002). Tinkering with Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America. New York: W. W. Norton. pp. 136–38.
  14. ^ Gup, Ted (1 September 1990). "100 Years of the Starling". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  15. ^ Ritvo, Harriet (2012). "Going Forth and Multiplying: Animal Acclimatization and Invasion". Environmental History. 17: 2012. doi:10.1093/envhis/emr155.
  16. ^ Coates, Peter (2005). "Eastenders Go West: English Sparrows, Immigrants, and the Nature of Fear". Journal of American Studies. 39 (3): 432. doi:10.1017/S0021875805000605. S2CID 145780623.
  17. ^ Tenner, Edward (1997). Why Things Bite Back. New York, New York: Vintage Books. pp. 152–155.
  18. ^ "European Starling" Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2 July 2011
  19. ^ O'Brien, Jane (24 April 2014). "Shakespeare's birds cause US trouble". BBC News.
  20. ^ "Invasive Species: European Starling" National Invasive Species Information Center. Retrieved 2 July 2011
  21. ^ Owen, Samuel (1847). The New-York Legal Observer. Samuel Owen. p. 264. Retrieved 14 June 2018.

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