Our neighbors over in that sweet little bedroom community to the East have been invaded by some unwelcome guests. Preliminary reports indicate that parts of LaGrange have become infested with hundreds of thousands of Blackbirds; and they’re driving the locals to distraction.
Folks are shooting off guns, fireworks, and propane cannons, in an effort to inform the blackbirds that Oldham County’s known reputation for friendliness and hospitality does not extend to Starlings, Cowbirds, and Grackles. These species—known as “trash birds”—are not only noisy and messy, they are also the enemies of our beloved songbirds.
Similar to the European Cuckoo, many of these Blackbirds are “brood parasites;” and lay their eggs in the nests of songbirds. The Blackbird hatchlings tend to be larger, and the songbirds feed them at the expense of their own offspring. If you’re interested, this is the origin of the word “cuckold.” Come to that, it’s the origin of the word even if you’re not interested.
But a far greater danger is presented by the tons of guano (bird poop to you) left behind by these unwanted trespassers. When the guano sinks into the soil, it promotes histoplasmosis spores, which, when they become airborne, can infect the lungs and eyes of humans and animals. It is a leading cause of blindness.
Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture has provided several Oldham Countians with propane cannons, which they set off periodically in an effort to scare off the birds.
Predictably, the folks in LaGrange will discover that Blackbird infestation is an almost insoluble problem. In the early 1970’s Jefferson County removed the deciduous trees around the County Courthouse (now, Metro Hall), and replaced them with coniferous Magnolia trees. The Magnolias matured, and provided year-round cover for hordes of migrating Starlings and Grackles.
It became nearly impossible to enter or exit the Courthouse without receiving a gift from one of these birds. And parking one’s car on Fifth or Jefferson Streets was nothing but an invitation to a disastrous mess. County Judges Sloane, Armstrong, and Mayor Abramson tried shooting, poisoning, and even blasting the Blackbirds, to little avail. In the end, Abramson had the Magnolia trees cut down, and the problem abated.
We trust our Oldham County neighbors will not be driven to the extreme of denuding the lovely foliage in their beautiful neighborhoods. Let’s all pray for a cold snap, and hope that the Blackbirds fly off to Disney World.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Your author is no stranger to Blackbirds. Back in August of 1986, there was a major infestation of Blackbirds, Starlings, and Grackles, in the southern part of Jefferson County. The Health Department determined that these migratory birds had established a roosting area in a large parcel of unimproved commercial property on Preston Highway. They ordered the owner to remove the coniferous trees and underbrush that was providing cover for the birds, and the owner refused.
Jefferson County Judge-Executive Dr. Harvey I. Sloane appointed me as a Special Administrative Law Judge to hear the owner’s appeal of the Health Department’s order. At a hearing, we received testimony from an ornithologist that more than a million birds were attracted to the area, and would probably remain throughout the winter. Medical testimony indicated that the birds’ droppings—technically called “guano”—would saturate the ground and likely provoke an epidemic of histoplasmosis lung and eye infections among children in the immediate neighborhood.
I ruled in favor of the Health Department, and the owner (who eventually built a shopping center on the site) complied. In follow-up investigations, the Health Department determined that the abatement had worked, and no children became infected.
I went away from this experience with an understanding that blackbird infestations are a natural phenomenon, and can be dramatic and even humorous. But they can also be deadly.
WAVE-3’s Katie Bauer reports:
Incredible behavior of Starlings
Alfred Hitchcock's"The Birds" in 1 minute, and 40 seconds:
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