Starling horde dapples yards with droppings Birds converge over Taneytown

October 21, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

Taneytown residents have been splattered with it and have walked in it.

But apparently there's not enough starling guano in the area to present a health problem.

"These birds are everywhere, dropping their excrement and diseases all over the place, and it's not unhealthy?" said resident Gail Ansari, who has been working to rectify the problem.

A representative from the Carroll County Health Department who visited the Fairgrounds Village area last week said the hordes of starlings roosting nightly in the woods behind the townhouses on Carnival Drive might be a nuisance, but they are not a health hazard.

"We need 3 to 4 inches deep for it to be considered a health hazard," said Barry Fortune, an area sanitarian for the county who viewed the area last week. "There is a lot of bird feces there, but not enough."

Mr. Fortune's visit to Taneytown is the latest chapter in the starling saga, which began when residents complained to the city about the flying menace that faithfully descends at dusk and disperses at dawn to begin the day's feeding frenzy in the fields of neighboring farmers.

The first wave of birds trickles into the trees after 6 p.m., circling the woods like a 747 preparing to touch down. But 10 minutes later, the fowl-filled sky is like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

The starlings' piercing shrieks and the sound of their wings beating are so intense they even muffle the boom of a teen-ager's car stereo.

"Isn't that the most horrible sound you've ever heard?" Ms. Ansari asked as she watched thousands of birds crisscrossing. "And they're not done yet."

After an hour, the birds settle into the trees and commence the chit-chat that Ms. Ansari says has kept her awake until all hours.

Ms. Ansari told the council during its meeting last week that 70 percent of the trees in the area should be cut down to decrease the number of roosting sites for the birds.

But since she received more information on starlings from the state Department of Agriculture and the county extension service, she is convinced that a large number of the birds need to be killed.

"I don't want to exterminate them," she said, almost apologetically. "I am an animal lover. I even rescue little fish people use for bait.

"But something has to be done about this," she said. "They are an absolute problem."

Ms. Ansari said farmers should place Starlicide, a slow-acting poison made by the Ralston Purina Co., around their livestock and poultry operations where starlings and other birds feed in the winter.

David Greene, a county extension agent for agricultural science, agrees. He is writing an article about the situation for TC newsletter that most farmers in the area receive.

"Because of the lack of food during the winter, the birds seem to come into the buildings and eat the feed for the livestock," Mr. Greene said. "They deposit their foul stuff all over the place. I think it is a disease problem."

Some people are concerned that other types of birds would be killed in the process. However, Mr. Greene said only starlings and English sparrows, which also search for food in livestock barns during the winter, would be in contact with the poison.

"Wouldn't it be nice to see robins, cardinals or blue jays in the area again?" Ms. Ansari said. "Right now, all there is are starlings. They've taken over."

John Casper, a Carnival Drive resident for 14 years, said he also tried to solve the problem but became discouraged when his efforts failed to raise any support.

"I thought I was the only one," Mr. Casper told Ms. Ansari. They yelled to be heard over the birds in the nearby woods. "I tried to do something about it, but I gave up because I believed nobody cared.

"I tried everything, banging the two-by-fours, playing the [distress] tapes, but they just go 'chuk, chuk, chuk,' " he said, putting his hands in his armpits and waving his arms to imitate the pests.

"As far as the eye can see, there they are," said Mr. Casper. "When I go on vacation and I see them, I curse them, every one of them."

Although health department officials said they have no authority in the matter, Ms. Ansari is determined to ruffle feathers on her own.

"When you have to run out of the car covering your head, that's bad," she said.

Ms. Ansari said she plans to present her findings to the council next month in hopes that the city government will provide financial support for bird poisoning, which would encourage the farmers to participate.

"I believe there is an imbalance in nature here," she said.

"Man created the problem, and he must now deal with it, just as he is dealing with the overpopulation of deer," she said. "It's the same thing."

The Sun is conducting a survey to determine the extent of the starling problem in Taneytown. If you would like to comment, please call (410) 751-7932. Leave your name, telephone number and brief comments.

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