CNN Environment News

Grumpy Texans grapple for grackle solution


March 27, 1996
Web posted at: 10:00 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Tony Clark

DALLAS, Texas (CNN) -- Every winter, thousands of unwelcome visitors flock to southern cities. The grackle, a large, migratory bird, flocks by the thousands to the Texas area, filling trees and roosting along building ledges. (353K QuickTime movie)

These noisy winged wanderers that lay waste to everything beneath them draw disdain from many quarters -- including Richard Lyons, who works with wildlife on a regular basis.

"You know, the bird droppings and stuff like that from the trees, and plus the smell. I mean, it's just horrendous," the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department worker says.

Jefferson memorial

Ken Steigman of the Heard Nature Museum says grackle flocks can measure several miles long. "You can see them every morning. They'll move out into areas where there may be grain, in fields or other seed sources, to forage," Steigman says.

Despite the noise and the mess, the grackles cannot be harmed. They are protected by the federal government.

Richard Selzer, whose company Avian Flyaway is responsible for protecting the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials from the birds, has found "startle" devices to be helpful in rounding the grackles up and moving them out of some parts of Texas.

"Timing is very, very important," Selzer says. "We use light in an innovative way."

Grackle vs. Owl

Now, the latest installment in the war against grackles pits bird against bird.

"Owls are a natural predator for very many different types of animals, and it's not so much that they'll catch the grackles. What they'll do is act as a deterrent," said Dennis Smith, president of the North Texas Birds of Prey center.

Smith encourages people to set out nesting boxes to attract barn and screech owls.

Owl glove

"You're looking at a bird that has a three- to four-foot wing span, and the next night that the grackles go to find a roost, they'll find some place safer to roost," Smith says.

Medical City Hospital in Dallas will try just about anything to get rid of the pesky birds. It has put up owl and hawk boxes in hopes of scaring off the grackles, but also uses the lights and noise method.

As Steigman put it, "We're all grasping straws for a method that's going to work."

But he was reluctant to offer any guarantees on the "owl solution."

"I don't know first-hand about how successful the presence of a barn owl is going to have on a bird that probably normally never sees a barn owl. I think the jury's still out. I don't think anybody really knows," he said.

But for this unwelcome visitor, people are willing to try just about anything.

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