In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.~Galatians 3:28
Prior to the Civil War, there were no Starlings in America. In the early 1890’s a group of Shakespeare enthusiasts released 100 birds in New York’s Central Park. The idea was to introduce every species mentioned by Shakespeare. It was a death sentence for many of the smaller songbirds, and although it took several attempts, the starling introduction worked. Actually, it worked somewhat too well. Today, more that 200 million European Starlings range from Alaska to Mexico, and all too often, they have become pests. They are aggressive and abundant, at times out-competing native species and at times eating grain on farms intended for other uses.
Like other introduced species, many purist birders view them with disdain. It doesn’t help that one has to look a bit to appreciate their special qualities. There is no denying the beauty of a Mute Swan or a Ring-necked Pheasant, but neither of those species belongs here in North America and their presence often means that local native species have been pushed out. Starlings are now among the most numerous songbirds, so the fact that they are not only somewhat drab, but also common leads to them being “just another tick” on the daily trip list along with other “boring” urban species like pigeons and House Sparrows (also introduced, albeit accidentally).
Closer examination reveals that they are rather attractive in their fresh, speckled plumage throughout the winter, which, through wearing away the tips of feathers, reveals a glossy appearance refracting greens and purples in the summer. They are actually impressive songsters if you consider their ability to mimic. But their real strength is in flight. They can fly over 40 miles per hour and when they gather in large flocks going to roost they do incredible maneuvers creating mesmerizing shifting shapes. It is called murmuration. Watch this video to see.
The Beatle’s “Blackbird” refers to a different species (basically the English equivalent of our Robin) but the concept of using a black bird to reference the struggle of Black people “singing in the dead of night” struggling to be free certainly works just as well, if not better, with Starlings. The introduction of African slaves to North America was certainly far from the naive intent of those who released Starlings in New York. Still, even those who argue that the descendants of slaves should not pursue reparations should be able to see the parallel of how a past action has far ranging impact in the present, both tangible changes and attitudes about them. The racism that enabled Africans to be treated as property and brought them in shackles to this continent persists to this day even without the chains. Something as simple as examining our attitudes about introduced bird species can help us to begin the work of undoing systemic racism. In fact, that work can never succeed if there is no self-examination that acknowledges guilt and changes opinions.
The time has come to spend time admiring the sublime beauty and incredible resilience of Starlings, who have made the most of their forced introduction. Surely Black Americans have shown even greater beauty and resilience.
Prayer: Thank you, Creator, that we see your image in marvelous and diverse creatures. Amen.