Birds invade JC neighborhood, leave behind trail of droppings -

Birds invade JC neighborhood, leave behind trail of droppings

Thousands of birds are invading a Johnson City neighborhood and leaving behind quite a mess. Their antics have homeowners covering their heads and watching where they step.

"I kind of like having a nice, clean car and right now it's not an option," East Holston Avenue resident John Kilpatrick said. "Right now, I'm calling it the Dalmatian. It's getting a little bit of presents from birds every day."

At dusk, European Starlings take over East Holston Avenue and the Gump Addition in Johnson City. The birds search out dark spaces to roost, like trees with leaves on them.

They're generally only a problem in the wintertime, but when they're here, they make their presence known. Homeowners like Deborah Johnson are at their wits ends with the birds.

"They have deposits all over cars and houses and sidewalks," Johnson said. "I've never seen anything like it before. I worry about health aspects, because it just can't be healthy. It seems like there should be something that could help us out here."

East Tennessee State University Biological Science professor and bird expert Dr. Fred Alsop admits it's not an easy problem to fix. He says William Shakespeare wrote about European Starlings in his sonnets.

In the 1890's European settlers brought the birds to the U.S. and set them free in New York's Central Park, Dr. Alsop said. According to the bird expert, the birds only travel in pairs in the summer and eat nuisance insect from crops, helping farmers in the process. However, in the winter they travel in flocks, move to the cities where its warmer and they become the nuisance.

"They're here to stay," he said. "Any group of animals, including birds in big numbers, when their droppings begin to add up, there can be health problems. It's tough, it's a tough problem."

While some shoot off guns to try and scare the birds away, Dr. Alsop says that's only a temporary fix. He says usually the shock effect won't work long-term. He recommends a more quiet alternative.

"I would introduce as many lights into the interiors of the trees as I could," he said. "They like dark places to sleep, not light places to sleep, so they're looking for something that's got a lot of shelter to it and it's relatively dark and they can pack themselves in shoulder-to-shoulder on the branches."

The United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services has some additional advice.

"Neighborhoods in Johnson City have had chronic problems with bird roosts for quite a few years," District Supervisor Keith Blanton said. "Removing or altering the roosting habitat (thinning/removing trees) is the most effective long-term solution, but is up to each individual landowner, and the birds may just move across the street to another yard. Intensive harassment of the birds at dusk as they are flying into the roost trees, with a variety of visual/noise harassment (such as pyrotechnics, bird distress recordings, air horns, bright lights, etc.) is another approach that can be effective. However this usually requires a concerted effort across the whole neighborhood, and coordination with local police or fire officials."

When it comes to noise, Blanton says it usually takes three to seven days in a row of intensive harrassment to work and even that's no guarantee the birds will move out of the neighborhood. Luckily, he says the winter roosts will soon disperse.

The birds have found Frog Nelms' two Magnolia trees to perfect homes for them at night, but that's not the case anymore. This afternoon Nelms took matters into his own hands and cut down the two trees. He says it's something he's planned on doing for the last two winters.

"The birds have just become a major, major hassle," Nelms said. "There are hundreds and hundreds of them and they're crapping all over everything, all over everybody's houses, all over their cars and it's just time to take them out. Since last year I've been trying to get rid of them, so it's just time to go."

People with questions about how to handle similar bird problems cam contact USDA Wildlife Services at (865) 588-0299.

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