BIRD WATCH: Species’ introduction heralds change for non-native country

THE IRRITATION SOME experience when a crowing rooster greets the dawn is being directed at another avian vocalist.

Eurasian collared-doves begin “cooing” at first light. They resemble the old water torture’s “drip, drip, drip,” until you fear going mad.

The three-noted “coo-COOO-cook” goes on and on and on. Pillows are placed over heads but it does no good. These doves will continue singing all day.

It wasn’t always that way. This bird isn’t a native. It was first introduced to Florida and did what most introduced species do: It attempted (and succeeded) in colonizing the rest of the country.

These doves are just one example of what has been going on for almost two centuries. A number of familiar birds have been introduced to this continent from other parts of the world. Others have been introduced from one region in the country to another.

California quail were native to California, but in the 1880s, they were introduced to other Western states. The population was first established in Oregon and spread to the Northwest.

Also established in Oregon during that period was the ring-necked pheasant. It, however, came from the Caucasus region near the Black Sea of Western Asia.

Both of these introductions, like those of the gray partridge and the chukar, came about because hunters wanted to establish viable hunting populations of these game species.

Hunters weren’t the only ones enthusiastic about introducing new species to this continent. Probably the most famous dabblers in bird distribution are the fans of the Bard.

William Shakespeare’s followers (some of them) took it on themselves to attempt to introduce to this country all the birds mentioned in his work. It took several tries, but the first bird they successfully brought to this country was the starling.

Several were released in New York’s Central Park. The rest is history.

Not all new species introduced to this continent were brought here by hunters or bird-watchers. Some of them did it on their own. Probably the best example of this is the cattle egret.

Originally seen only in Portugal, Spain and Africa, they self-introduced themselves to the Western Hemisphere by simply flying across the Atlantic Ocean.

These white, long-legged waders arrived in South America in 1887. There were also reports of them in 1911. First reports of sightings in North America came from Florida in 1941-42.

Many non-native birds have been introduced to new areas as a result of “escapes.” For one reason or another, caged birds escape, or are even released from captivity.

More than one of them has not only survived in the new location but has managed to find a mate and establish populations that thrive.

The state of Hawaii’s native bird population has been severely populated with released species from other areas, many in Asia.

The local birds can’t compete.

They move to the higher elevations and their populations drop. Sometimes they disappear entirely.

Populations of both parrots and parakeets exist in North America, especially in southern California and in Florida. These introduced birds are usually confined to small areas instead of spreading across the country. Climate is a major factor with them.

The introduction of new species to areas throughout the World has been going on for centuries. It will probably continue.

My father told me about seeing his first ring-necked pheasant. I remember the first Eurasian collared-doves when they arrived in the Northwest. You can’t help but wonder what species is next.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected].

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