Waco bird population creates nuisance

Nov. 12, 2003

By Leanna Pate, reporter

Each season, natural phenomena descend to fly in faces, hop past or sweep flip-flops off. It's birds in the fall, field crickets in late summer and rushing rainwater, well, really any time.

Ornithophobia, the fear of birds, could be pretty common amongst students and Wacoans. Thousands of grackles dot Waco skies each fall and leave more than dots behind. Cars are parked as far as possible from trees, and some folks are just plain fed up with birds.

'There's too many of them,' Ryan Harris, a Tomball junior, said. 'They really need to do something about it.'

Ryan Young, a Houston junior, said he had the 'general freshman story of parking under a tree and seeing your newly washed car ruined.'

Many places that have, so to say, gone to the birds, are close to campus. The unpleasant aroma caused by the birds is quite an annoyance, according to Bethany May, a Liberty, Mo., senior. The entrance of Marrs McLean Science Building and the parking garage side entrance to the Hankamer School of Business can be some of the worst places for the odor.

Another hot spot seems to be across Interstate 35 by several popular fast food restaurants. Patrons step from their cars and come face to face with thousands of screeching, screaming, squawking birds. Then, returning to the car after dining on pasta and breadsticks at Fazoli's Italian Restaurant, they see a huge, white, polka-dotted object that used to be a clean car.

'Sometimes [the birds] can be a pest, especially with the customers and their droppings, but we love the beauty of them,' Pryor Frelson, a manager at Fazoli's, said.

In an effort to explain the massive amounts of birds, ornithologist Dr. David Bird explained in a recent article that after nesting season ends, birds form startlingly huge flocks to rest together at night. This phenomenon is called 'communal roosting.'

'These flocks can range anywhere from several hundred birds to well over a million,' Bird said.

This is no laughing matter for some; such concerns as odor, noise, damage to trees and health troubles such as histoplasmosis, a respiratory condition occurring when old roosts harbor harmful spores, are all-too-common problems from too many birds.

Since this phenomenon has continued for quite some time, 'action must start early to fix the bird nuisance,' Bird said.

Baylor officials used air guns to scare birds off before they roost. Also, taped distress calls have been played over loud speakers to frighten them off.

Amanda King, a San Antonio sophomore, remembered speakers outside of her South Russell Residence Hall room last year.

'These calls of predator birds would come on every 10 minutes and try to scare the birds, but all it actually did was really annoy people,' King said.

Large grackle populations also have caught the eye of city officials. Burck Tollett, park superintendent for Waco, said that one of the worst areas around Waco is down from Eighth Street to the Brazos River and from Washington Avenue to Franklin Avenue. Numbers have grown so big in the downtown area that the city has contracted out to help control the flocks.

'Birds look for an area where they feel fairly secure and where they have shelter and where water and food are near,' Tollett said. 'That's why downtown is so good.'

Just before dark, Tollett explains, is when the crews come out to quell the flocks.

'They have people come out around dusk with air horns, flashing lights, air pistols and pyrotechnic devices,' Tollett said.