10 Bird Species Introduced to North America


The House Sparrow from P. Taverner’s 1921 edition of Birds of Eastern Canada

T – 98 – Day 3 of 100 Days of Blogging

Today’s Listicle contains ten birds species introduced to North America. This is not an exhaustive list, you can download the AOU  checklist of North American species and wade through it for more. Eight of the ten birds appear on the Bird Protection Quebec Checklist .

Environment Canada quotes the World Conservation Union as saying that invasive alien species are the second most significant threat to biodiversity, after habitat loss. In their new ecosystems, invasive alien species become predators, competitors, parasites, hybridizers, and diseases of our native and domesticated plants and animals.

Below are the stories of how some of North Americas introduced bird species got here. The logic of reasoning behind some of the bird introductions are understandable, game birds for example, others not so much. A few got here by chance on their own power.How they affect the ecosystem varies by species.


#1 House Sparrow  (Passer domesticus)

French: Moineau domestique    PQSPB List: Permanent Resident

This is one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” stories. The House Sparrow is native to Europe but thanks to  the release of 16 birds imported from England to the New York City area, you can find them pretty well anywhere in North America (and around the world for that matter!). Traditional historical accounts claim that the first batch of 16 birds did not thrive and that another two groups were required to establish the species on this side of the Atlantic between 1851 and 1853. Which means today’s ubiquitous House Sparrow stems from about 100 individuals. An interesting article disagrees and argues and that only the first 16 were responsible for the invasion.

Regardless however many were let loose, within only a few decades populations hopped their way across the continent so quickly, that in one of the earliest records of PQSPB meetings in 1917, the ubiquitous passerine was citied as a primary culprit responsible for the decline of other bird species on the island of Montreal.

House sparrows like to nest in cavities on the side of buildings and other manmade structures and easily compete against native birds, like bluebirds and tree swallows, for nest boxes. So while that doesn’t earn them too many popularity points with the average bird enthusiast, there is a plus side. Just because of their abundance, ease of breeding in captivity and lack of fear of humans, they are model organisms for thousands of avian research studies

Population declines have been noted since the 1960s but is categorized as a species of Least Concern. Global breeding populations are estimated at 540 million with 2% living in Canada.

#2 Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)    

French: Pigeon biset     PQSPB List: Permanent resident

The French are credited with introducing the Rock Pigeon to North America at Port Royal (Nova Scotia) in 1606. Additional introductions occurred in Virginia ( c.1621) and Massachusetts ( c.1642).

The rock pigeon was first domesticated over 5000 years ago in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, making it the world’s oldest domesticated bird. It was originally raised for meat but eventually used for message carrying. In the notable achievements category, carrier pigeons were used by the Romans to convey the conquest of Gaul back to Rome, and news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo arrived by carrier pigeon in London days in advance of the news sent by ship and horse. Along with the house sparrow, it can be found in any city around the world.

#3 European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

French: Étourneau sansonnet      PQSPB List: Permanent resident

Another introduction from the annals of  “it seemed like a good idea at the time,”  the European Starling was introduced by a group in New York City who wanted to introduce all the birds that were ever mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to North America.

The first 60 pairs were let loose in Central Park in 1890 and 40 more in 1891. Merely one line in Henry IV served as inspiration for today’s North American population. Of a global estimate placed at 150 million birds, 8% live in Canada , 31% in the U.S and 1% in Mexico. Considered an invasive species that often displaces native cavity nesters, the starling quickly expanded its range and can be found throughout North America

#4 Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

French: Cygne tuberculé     PQSPB List: Irregular visitor

While elegant and beautiful, which is why it was introduced in the first place during the 1800s to decorate the ponds of town halls, parks and estates, the Mute Swan is considered an invasive species, detrimental to the ecosystem it inhabits and shares with other species. Their voracious appetites have been cited as devouring submerged aquatic vegetation in vast numbers. The grasses could not recover quickly enough to provide enough food and habitat to go around for other species sharing the same ecosystem. It is established in the Northeast, Mid atlantic, Great Lakes, and Pacific Northwest of the U.S. It is also known to attack humans that wander into its nesting area.

#5  Red-whiskered Bulbul  (Pycnonotus jocosus)

French: Bulbul Orphée

It’s latin name jocosus refers to jocularity and references the bird’s liveliness and cheerful chatter. Its native range is from India to China and to the northern Malay Peninsula. Which is why this easily tamed popular cage bird of the 1960’s made itself at home in the similar climate of South Florida after a daring pet shop escape ( ok, I made the daring part up!) A population near Miami thrives off the region’s exotic trees and shrubs which provide it with a ready supply of berries year-round. Check it out on your next trip to the Sunshine State

 #6 Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

 French: Heron garde-boeufs  PQSPB List: Irregular visitor

The Cattle egret was first sighted in North America in the West Indies and is believed to have come from Africa via favorable winds. It colonized Florida by 1941 and was spread through southern and eastern North America by the 1970s. It is a vagrant to the Canadian Provinces and AK. Current population declines of 50% have been noted on the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

The cattle egret is listed as a species of Least Concern. Population figures are scant but a study conducted in Texas cited 1.5 million birds Unlike the great Egret which has featured prominently in the last two blog entries, the Cattle egret is usually found in fields, far away from water. It follows cattle and other large grazing animals to forage on insects and invertebrates.

They have been cited as possibly being beneficial to the livestock industry by eating flies (and on rare occasions, ticks) from the bodies of cattle. Some researchers have also suggested they may be a useful indicator of environmental pollutants because they accumulate residues of potential contaminants in their feathers.

#7 Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix)

 French: Perdrix grise    PQSPB List: Permanent resident, rare, breeding

Introduced as a game bird in the early 1900s, it can be found on flat agricultural land along the Canada – US border.

Gray Partridge hens produce some of the largest clutches of any bird species. Clutch size can range up to 22 eggs, and averages 16 to 18. Some population declines have been noted over the last several decades but it is listed as a species of least concern.

#8 Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

 French: Alouette des champ

In the early 1900s Eurasian Skylarks were introduced to the Victoria, British Columbia area. While not particularly striking looking, Skylarks are noted for their beautiful song which has been the subject of poetry and music. At the height of their population, they numbered about 1000 birds, but populations are currently in decline and feared headed for extirpation from the region.

#9. Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

 French: Tourterelle turque        PQSPB List: Irregular visitor

Larger than the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura ) that occurs in our range, this is a fairly new resident. It has an interesting story. In the 1970s, a group of birds escaped from a pet store in the Bahamas, and along with a later group set free from the same place, eventually ended up in the Florida.

According to Project Feederwatch, researchers looking for the impact that this species might have on other populations such as the Mourning dove, discovered to their surprise the Mourning Dove populations were actually greater at sites where they coexisted with collared-doves.

#10. House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

 French: Roselin familier        PQSPB List: Permanent Resident.

The native range of the House Finch was originally the western United States and Mexico. However, since 1940 they have spread across the eastern US states and southern Canada. Todays eastern populations stem from a population of illegal cage birds in the New York city area  let loose after attempts to sell them fell short. The birds, called “Hollywood Finches” in the cage trade, expanded rapidly through the eastern half of the continent. Currently an eye disease, Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, is causing population declines. Concerned scientists are monitoring the effects of the disease to determine if it will spread to the native populations in the west.