The commoners

13 minutes

The manifest destiny of starlings. How a nod to Shakespeare unleashed an avian conquest

Between 1890 and 1891, a wealthy New Yorker named Eugene Schieffelin released dozens of starlings into Central Park as part of his campaign to introduce animals that were ‘aesthetically and practically valuable’ to the US. It was a romantic and well-intentioned undertaking – an endeavour to bring all of the birds mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to the country. Only the European starlings survived, but the results were spectacular beyond Schieffelin’s wildest imagination – and utterly disastrous. Within 100 years, the starling population was more than 100 million, with the migratory birds wreaking havoc on farms and native species across the country, and forever reshaping the continent’s sky. A meditation on the starling’s strange North American story, the directors Jessica Bardsley and Penny Lane’s lyrical short documentary The Commoners traces an idiosyncratic history of ecology, linguistics and urbanism, one in which the birds pursue their own form of manifest destiny.

Directors: Jessica Bardsley and Penny Lane

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter Sign up
Follow us on
Facebook
Like

‘Aeon is consistently the place to find excellent, provocative and thoughtful writing.

One of my favourite places to find new writers and new ideas.’

Professor Sophie Kerttu Scott, University College London

‘Aeon is my favourite online magazine.

I have found no other place that so regularly provides interesting, clear and informative articles across academic disciplines on topics that matter.’

Dr Robert J. Hartman, University of Gothenburg

‘Aeon’s combination of intelligence, integrity and flair is vanishingly rare – and I am very grateful for it. It is becoming an indispensable presence in the digital world for those who believe that ideas matter.’

Tom Chatfield, writer and commentator on digital culture

‘I believe it’s increasingly important to support accessible scholarship and aspirational ideas.

Thinking people can no longer afford to be alone.’

Christine T, USA, Friend of Aeon

‘Aeon is always providing great, thought-provoking content, and it would be a crime for me to not donate to a service that I use daily.’

Jarry A, Canada, Friend of Aeon

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.
But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.
But we can’t do it without you.

Essay/
Religion
Not your Tibetan Buddhism

Behind the beatific image of Tibetan Buddhism lies a dark, complicated reality. But is it one the Western gaze wants to see?

Mark Hay

Essay/
Politics & Government
Everyday politics

Imperial Chinese conscription shows how ordinary people exercise influential political skills, even in a repressive state

Michael Szonyi