The Birds of Taneytown CARROLL COUNTY

November 11, 1993

For Taneytown residents, the starlings that have descended on their town are no laughing matter. While residents may kid one another that they are experiencing a real-life replay of Alfred Hitchcock's movie classic, "The Birds," many people have real concerns about the large flocks that have decided to winter in a grove of trees between Cardinal Drive and Trevanion Road in the Fairgrounds Village neighborhood.

Farmers are afraid their cattle will eat feed contaminated with droppings and become ill. Some residents worry that the tens of thousands of birds are carrying diseases that will harm humans. They are also disturbed by the noise and the mess these large flocks create.

The birds have probably congregated around Taneytown because of the abundance of food and shelter. In cold weather, the birds eat feed set out for livestock. Experts say the birds will travel between 15 and 30 miles a day to feeding sites. They return to their roosting areas in the evenings. They like dense vegetation which protects them from wind and weather.

To deal with this sudden infestation, the town council has been asked to provide money for extermination and control efforts. Some of the measures suggested make a great deal of sense; others would be counterproductive.

Denying the starlings food is the most effective way to drive them out. Cleaning up spilled grain, bird-proofing all feeders, feeding livestock in covered areas and using feed that is too large for the birds are ways to discourage them from staying in the area.

Poison can be used to frighten them off. Grain treated with one pesticide will cause the birds to act in erratic ways and their behavior will frighten off other birds. Another poison kills off large numbers of birds.

However, the idea put forth of cutting down the trees in which they are roosting makes no sense at all. Destroying their habitat will throw the local ecological system further out of balance. Not only will the starlings lose their homes, so will lots of other, less bothersome, avians, ultimately resulting in a greater imbalance of insects.

Doing nothing is also a viable option. Westminster, for instance, used to be infested with pigeons, but a virus apparently has killed them off. Nature has remarkable self-correcting mechanisms.

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