Non-Native Species

Non-native bird species such as European Starlings can be a terrible annoyance to both birdwatchers and non-birdwatchers alike. Listed below are some fairly common non-native species and the story of how they arrived in America... and some of the common problems that they cause.


The Good-


Ring-Necked Pheasant


It is a little-known fact that Ring-Necked Pheasants were introduced to North America from China. In fact, all pheasants come from Asia. Ring-Necked Pheasants were originally introduced into the US in Oregon 1892. After that date, sevral more introductions were made in South Dakota (and eventually became South Dakota's state bird). Since these introductions, their populations has spread to include over 30 of the 50 states.

Ring-Necked Pheasants are the only good example of species introduction that I know of. They are not pests, but are a commonly hunted as a game bird. In fact, in many states, including Ohio, they are introduced into state wildlife areas every year. They are easily identified by their loud, raspy call.



The Bad-


House Sparrow


The fateful year was 1851. 16 House Sparrows were introduced into Brooklyn, New York. In the 1870's, two more batches of House Sparrows were released in San Francisco and Salt Lake City. By 1900 their range had increased all the way to the Rocky Mountains. Now House Sparrows are a common bird in all 48 of the lower contiguous states.

There are two main problems US birdwatchers face that are caused by House Sparrows. The first is that House Sparrows are very aggressive at bird feeders. They scare away smaller native birds, spill and fling the seed everywhere, and waste more than half of it. This makes them a menace that most birdwatchers deal with by simply using a pellet gun (House Sparrows are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act since they are not native).

The second way they cause problems is in nest box projects. House Sparrows fiercely take control of, and defend nest boxes. They will oust birds that are using them, even if the bird has a nest, eggs, and even hatched young. The sparrows don't worry about that. The kill the young or break the eggs, toss everything out (sometimes the just build thier nest right on top of the broken eggs or dead young), and begin constructing their own nest. They even go so far as to kill adult bird species if they happen to catch them in a box. They have been known to kill Purple Martins, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds.

If you are having problems with House Sparows, please see the 'Solutions' area on the 'Bird Feeding Information' page.


European Starling


Only 39 years after the introduction of the House Sparrow to North America, a group of Shakespeare enthusiasts decided that the US should be home to every species ever mentioned in his (Shakespeare's) works. In 1890, 100 European Starlings were released into Central Park, New York. The situation soon grew out of control, in the same was it did with the introduction of the House Sparrow.

Soon starlings were residents of every state in the country, causing disarray at bird feeders and bird houses nation wide. Flocks of starlings, somtimes numbering more than 30 birds per flock, descend upon bird feeders and spill and fling seed everywhere, wasting most of it. In the process they scare away most other bird species at the feeders because of their aggressive nature.

Unfortunately, European Starlings, like House Sparrows, are cavity nesters. This means that now not only House Sparrows were harming or killing native cavity nesters such as Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows, but now European Starlings had joined them.Unlike with House Sparrows, however, this problem can be solved with a simple solution: 1/2 inch nestbox holes. Starlings, being nearly 1 1/2 times as large as virtually all native cavity nesters, cannot fit through this size nestbox hole.

Bird watchers are not the only peopl affected by this invasive species, however. Farmers are troubled by this species when huge flocks of starlings descend on corn and bean fields. Unfortuneately, unlike most non-native birds, European Starlings do not just stick to cities, though they are abundant in most cities, also.

If you are having problems with European Starlings, please see the 'Solutions' area on the 'Bird Feeding Information' page.


Rock Pigeon


Although the exact year of the Rock Pigeon introduction is uncertain, we do know that they were introduced by early 17th century colonists. The Rock Pigeon is now common in all 48 of the contiguous states. The good news (for some) about rock pigeons is that they typically dwell only in cities. The only exception is when they live in barn lofts in agricultural areas. They often choose barn lofts because they like the easy meals they get during the growing season (eg. spilled grain). Often Rock Pigeons dwelling in barn lofts not only get easy meals, but make them. They are often preyed upon by hawks or owls (especially Barn Owls).

Though Rock Pigeons are not part of the nest box competition problem like House Sparrows and European Starlings, they can be just as bad at bird feeders. Those living in or near cities are often troubled by many of these large, noisy birds. They scare smaller birds away, make a mess of the seed, and also cover everything in the area with their droppings.

If you are having problems with Rock Pigeons, please see the 'Solutions' area on the 'Bird Feeding Information' page.



The Less Common-


Mute Swan


Though Mute Swans are becoming problematic in some states, they are fairly uncommon in most areas of Ohio. They were introduced multiple times throughout the mid 1800's until the early 1900's. They were originally introduced to park ponds. Since their introduction, their populations has steadily increased, and they are extremely territorial. Mute Swans do not cause any problems for people, but are mainly disliked because of their affects on native species.


European Goldfinch


European Goldfinches are considered rare in Ohio, all of those seen in the wild are escaped pets. European Goldfinches are one of the few non-native birds that have not quickly populated and become a problem. This is probably because they have never truly been introduced into North America. Those few that are roming the US are escaped pets, so they have little to no chance of ever meeting another bird of the same species to be able to reproduce. However, with an intorduction, the population of these birds could perhaps climb, and in just a decade they could be as much of a problem as House Sparrows and European Starlings.

All photos this page from the Wikimedia Commons

The House Finch-

Did you know?

  • Though the House Finch is a native species, it was originally only a resident of the western United States. It was introduced into New York in 1940, and since then it's range has spread to include all of the eastern half of the US.

State Birds-

Did you know?

  • South Dakota is the only state to have a state bird that isn't native to North America.

The House Sparrow-

Did you know?

  • Though there is a flourishing population of house sparrows in the US, this bird's population in Europe is dwindling.

City Birds-

Did you know?

  • The White House (as well as many other government buildings) has electrified wires on it's roof to prevent large flocks of non-native birds such as House Sparrows, Rock Pigeons, and European Starlings from descending onto it and making a mess everywhere.

The Mute Swan-

Did you know?

  • Mute Swans aren't actually mute, but make hissing noises instead of normal calls.