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Heed the Birds
July 25, 2008 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Brian D. Collier is attempting to teach the starlings to say the name "Schieffelin."

Eugene Schieffelin introduced European Starlings into New York City's Central Park in 1890 and 1891. The descendants of these birds have damaged trees and crops, transmitted diseases, bullied native species, and even brought down a Lockheed Electra in 1960, killing 62.

But they are not without their charms. Starling flocks in flight are a sight to see (previously). And starlings are skilled at recognizing song patterns and can even mimic human speech.
West documents one hapless bird, caught in a web of string, shrieking "Basic research!" at its owners; another screeching "I have a question!" as it squirms while having its feet doctored. The speech patterns of one bird routinely precedes its rendition of "hi" with the sound of a human sniffle--a combination traced to his caregiver being allergic.
Collier is using this skill to turn the species into an environmental teaching tool. He has mounted a project to teach the starlings to speak the name of their patron.
The first and most simple strategy is to find a starling and shout "Schieffelin" to it. Research by West and King has shown that starlings have the ability to learn a word or phrase after hearing it only once. To increase the success rate, I recommend repeating "Schieffelin" as many times as possible to an individual or group of starlings.
"Eventually, the starlings themselves will begin to carry the name "Schieffelin" through their North American population. Research by West and King has shown that starlings can learn sounds from one another. With the teaching of just a few "Schieffelin" can spread, as a virus would, through a population."
posted by Knappster (19 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Schieffelin? Even I have no idea how to say that. Good luck, starlings!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:58 PM on July 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


Further proof starlings possess a hive mind.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:05 AM on July 26, 2008


I think it would be even cooler if every starling screeched "Tell me what you know, Dr. Lecter!"
posted by longsleeves at 12:09 AM on July 26, 2008 [8 favorites]


Y'know, it just came to me, let's all agree not to let the advertisement agencies in on this discovery.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:15 AM on July 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think that "hello" would have been a much better choice, much more recognizable.. So much better that I think I may have to undermine this project by trying to get the ones here to say hello.

I often wondered if something like this would work with talking parrots, if enough were raised and released. Assuming they could be hand raised AND be taught "jungle smarts". It wouldn't do you much good if they flew off into the forest an tried to make conversation with jaguars.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:27 AM on July 26, 2008


PepsiBird
posted by Navelgazer at 1:16 AM on July 26, 2008


I took a long video of starlings flocking at Eastbourne Pier a few years ago.
It gets a bit more focused 2 minutes or so in, then it gets really wild.
posted by Flashman at 5:53 AM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the real result of this experiment will end up with a group of humans trained to shout "Schieffelin!" every time they see a starling.
posted by briank at 6:53 AM on July 26, 2008 [14 favorites]


I took a long video of starlings flocking at Eastbourne Pier a few years ago.

I've seen starlings flocking -- beastly, shitting creatures that they are. When's someone going to post the videos of the starlings talking?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:54 AM on July 26, 2008


"the frequency kenneth, the frequency kenneth...caw! caw!"
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:06 AM on July 26, 2008



I took a long video of starlings flocking at Eastbourne Pier a few years ago.
It gets a bit more focused 2 minutes or so in, then it gets really wild.


Birds are such sheep.
posted by srboisvert at 8:36 AM on July 26, 2008


It seems more like he's trying to get US to get starlings to say "Schieffelin." Put me down for "hello."
posted by user92371 at 9:15 AM on July 26, 2008


Starlings talking.
posted by krix at 9:22 AM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I plan to use an elaborate system of speakers at feeding stations to teach the Mefites to say "Haughey."
posted by bicyclefish at 9:45 AM on July 26, 2008


He should teach them to say "pretentious wanker".
posted by w0mbat at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2008


The starlings will know my name and then nothing will stop me. Muahahahaha!
posted by an egg at 12:37 PM on July 26, 2008


I taught my girlfriend's budgie to say "tweet". She did not appreciate the irony.
posted by klarck at 3:53 PM on July 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


I thought it would be nice to splice the parrot with the pigeon, and teach the pigeons to say "Spare Change?" Then the city government might do something about banning all the aggressive panhandling pigeons.
posted by eegphalanges at 12:10 AM on July 27, 2008


My experience with starlings is that they like to nest in the dryer vent making alarmingly loud scratching sounds early in the morning that freak out my wife.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 6:49 PM on July 27, 2008


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