Indigenous versus Invasive Species

Indigenous is an interesting word. A dictionary definition (there are a few variations) goes as follows:

Produced, growing, living, or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment.

But also:

Relating to the earliest known inhabitants of a place.

For the purpose of this post, I’ll talk about a combination of the two definitions and how they are purposefully mangled by idiots . . . er . . . non-thinking jer . . . er . . . well-meaning people.

And I’ll begin with Hawaiʻi.

Having lived in Hawaiʻi for a few years, I was struck by the sanctimonious attitude of many of the natives. Like most people everywhere, they have a certain image of themselves, are proud of their culture and customs, and walk around with a chip on their shoulder about being ‘invaded’ by who they call ‘haoles’.

They will tell you the term refers to ‘light skin’ or ‘visitor’, but just swap the ‘h’ and ‘a’ around and you get what I think they really mean.

You see, Hawaiʻians, like most people who don’t know history, claim possession to where they live by virtue of having lived there a long time and — like most people — are not happy when outsiders ‘invade’ the place. I’m sure most readers are familiar with various conflicts around the world — and here, too — based on claims about who has the right to live in this or that place.

The thing is, at one time, no one lived on those islands. Then Polynesians came, liked it, and settled there (LINK). Later, Tahitians came, liked it, and settled there. By ‘settled’, I mean conquered the Polynesians (LINK). You know the rest; Europeans came and also settled there, and so on.

I could draw parallels about almost any inhabited land we identify as a country; nothing was there, someone came, some other people came, then more people came, and each time — after discussions that often involved killing each other — some sort of balance was achieved . . . until the next people come.

But, this post is not about people. Believe it or not, it’s actually about birds . . .

. . . but first, let’s talk about plants. I have two posts about plants that are both clearly invasive species (meaning, not native to the area). In Hawaiʻi, that could be many of the iconic plants we associate with the islands, but I’m referring to the coconut (LINK).

In the U.S. mainland, the one I wrote about is the Dipsacus plant (LINK, LINK). However, only the latter is treated as invasive. Meaning, Hawaiʻian aren’t trying to eradicate coconut trees.

I mention these two because of what characterizes something as invasive versus indigenous.

Obviously, it’s not just whether something is “native” to a particular area. Instead, there are a couple of other criteria . . . usefulness and time.

Per my observation, people — thinking about themselves — rely exclusively on ‘time’ as opposed to ‘usefulness. Meaning, if someone’s grandparents were born here, they’re likely to view themselves — no matter how useless — as both native and entitled to the full weight of the rights and benefits such classifications carry. The law says you only need to be born here, but that’s often called into question if your parents came from elsewhere.

For the record, I wasn’t born here, but I have a piece of paper that supposedly grants me equal status to someone who was . . . unless I complain about something and then someone is sure to say I should “go back where I came from“.

And this brings us to birds . . . let’s start with the European Starling (LINK). . .

That particular specimen was photographed in February of 2003, dozing atop the Umbrella Tree in the backyard of our then (Michigan) home.

Here’s the thing . . . Starlings were introduced in the U.S. in the 1890s by fans of Shakespear who wanted to ensure all of the bard’s birds existed in the New World. So, by my count, they’ve been in the U.S. longer than most people . . . 130 years and many, many generations. But they are still considered an invasive species.

Why? Mainly, because they do a lot of damage to crops. But, don’t “native” birds damage crops?

You betcha! Blackbirds, all ten native species, are responsible for a large amount of damage. The thing is, by calling Starlings “invasive”, you can kill them with impunity . . . despite the fact Starlings are born and thrive here, just like blackbirds. Just how long is it before something is ‘native’? Apparently, longer than 130 years.

Another species that’s been here even longer — fifty years longer . . . the House Sparrow (LINK).

Also sitting on a branch from the Umbrella Tree in my Michigan backyard.

I should mention that the above is one of my favorite bird photographs . . . probably more due to the fact it’s one of my first decent digital bird photos than due to any technical prowess.

Anyway, these are ‘native’ to Europe and were brought here to control moths . . . and they adapted quite well, and for that, we don’t like them as much as other birds. They’re not protected by the MBTA, so they can be killed or trapped without worry.

Some argue non-native species have an advantage — a dubious claim given they face the same predatory threats (and then some) as native species.

Look, I’m not a naturalist, ornithologist, or have an ax to grind, and I don’t know how to ‘rebalance’ nature (after we unbalanced it) . . . but I am someone who reads something and then thinks about stuff.

Today, I’m thinking about the term “invasive species” . . .

. . . and I have to tell you, it sure seems that humans are the worst offenders.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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