European Starling flock, photographed at Las Gallinas wildlife area
San Rafael, California
The unsung, rainbow beauty, the European Starling, non-native and maligned, often hated in the States for its unchosen status as “alien.” I can’t take the side of nature nativism or species hatred. I’ve defended the non-natives — the starlings, the thistles, the eucalyptus — to a load of criticism. You know, it’s sentimental, unscientific to see the individual instead of the aggregate.
The starling, star among the original alien birds, is fiercely brilliant and because of that brilliance, like us, able to survive through tenacity and, sometimes, encroachment. En masse, they are Vasarely in the sky, through undulations and murmurations and synchronized illusions. And they are also feeders of grain and appropriators of bluebird boxes, and persecuted for that intractable force of survival.
As photographers, we witness the complex interplay of native and non-native species in relative balance: goldfinches padding their autumn stores on thistle, Monarch butterflies roosting in leaves of eucalyptus. And then the imbalance. Those same fields where I used to photograph goldfinches and baby bluebirds by the dozen, perching on their first thistles — those thistles, with their stubborn roots, spread beyond tolerance and are now quiet, wiped clean with herbicide, no native seeds to take their place. An imbalance supposedly rectified by further imbalance.
In a paper on nativism in biology, Jonah Peretti poses this question, relating to non-native species: “If peaceful coexistence in a multicultural society is a good goal for humans, why not for other species? The idea of purity is central to current debates in environmental science, politics, and values. What sort of nature should environmentalists admire, protect, and value?”
For today, through my lens, for this starling crew on a wire, with Myna bird chatter in full bloom, I chose a snapshot of admiration and peaceful coexistence.