Bird invasion brings real-life horror to Kentucky city

NASHVILLE, Tennessee Tue Feb 19, 2013 3:59pm EST

1 of 4. A flock of blackbirds search for trees to perch on in the town on Hopkinsville, Kentucky February 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Harrison McClary

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Millions of birds have descended on a small Kentucky city this winter, fouling the landscape, scaring pets and raising the risk for disease in a real-life version of Alfred Hitchcock's horror film, "The Birds."

The blackbirds and European starlings blacken the sky of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, before roosting at dusk, turn the landscape white with bird poop, and the disease they carry can kill a dog and sicken humans.

"I have seen them come in, and there are enough that if the sun is just right, they'll cloud your vision of the sun," said Hopkinsville-Christian County historian William Turner. "I estimate there are millions of them."

David Chiles, president of the Little River Audubon Society, said the fact that migratory flocks are roosting in the city rather than flying further south is tied to climate warming.

"The weather, the climate plays a big role," said Chiles, the bird enthusiast who also teaches biology at Hopkinsville High School.

"They somehow establish a roost south of where the ground is frozen solid," he explained. "They are ground feeders, feeding on leftover crops and insects. If the fields are frozen solid, they can't feed."

Although the birds have not turned on humans as in the classic 1963 Hitchcock movie featuring vicious attacks on people in a small northern California town, the city has taken defensive measures.

The south-central Kentucky city of 35,000 people, about an hour north of Nashville, has hired a pest control company to get rid of the interlopers.

Henry Jako, general manager of McGee Pest Control, said crews use air cannons and "bird-bangers" - similar to bottle rocket fireworks aimed into the trees where the birds roost.

The artillery attacks are disturbing some locals as well as the birds.

"It scares my little dog to death," said Christian County Judge-Executive Steve Tribble. "I don't know what it does other than move the birds from one tree to the next."

Jako said that in the worst-affected neighborhoods, multiple cannons and consecutive blasts are being used to keep the birds moving.

When they fly away, the birds leave behind a huge volume of excrement.

"I've got an apple tree that has almost turned white," Tribble said. "Any vehicle parked outside is covered up. I guess it's good for folks that have car washes."

Historian Turner said that the blackbird invasion this year is the worst he's witnessed since the late 1970s, when Hopkinsville suffered a similar bird blitz.

"We aren't seeing the temperatures go as low as zero like we used to. Now we very often don't even see temperatures in the teens around here," Jako said. "If the birds are comfortable, they are going to stay around," he added.

The birds also pose a serious health hazard because their droppings can carry a fungal disease called histoplasmosis, which can cause lung infections and symptoms similar to pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control website.

"It does become a matter of public health," said Dr. Wade Northington, director of the Murray State University Breathitt Veterinary Center, an animal disease diagnostic facility whose territory covers a 200-mile (322-km) radius from Hopkinsville, including parts of Tennessee, Illinois and Indiana.

"The blackbirds are able to harbor this organism ... so it can be shed in their droppings and it becomes a problem, especially where they tend to roost in extremely high numbers," he said.

It can cause illness in humans, and is particularly dangerous for people with compromised immune systems or respiratory ailments, he said. It can be fatal for canines.

Turner, who suffered histoplasmosis decades ago after excavating family property that once held a chicken coop, describes the disease as debilitating. "I didn't have any energy, and I didn't have much appetite and lost weight," he said.

The droppings contaminate the soil, making it unhealthy for years. It is a worry for dog owners, said Northington.

"It can be very expensive and take months to get it arrested and get an animal cured from it," Northington said. "The disease is very prevalent in our area."

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler)

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Comments (24)
ounceoflogic wrote:
Millions? The photo shows about 250. Surely someone took better pics than these.

Feb 20, 2013 10:47am EST  --  Report as abuse
ounceoflogic wrote:
Millions? The photo shows about 250. Surely someone took better pics than these.

Feb 20, 2013 10:47am EST  --  Report as abuse
Birds simply follow Earth’s magnetic flux lines to migrate. This is evidence that the flux lines have changed. Since the Sun flipped its magnetic poles last year or so it has forced the flux lines to move around. It has had an effect on the tilt of the planet that appears to be in conjunction with the position of the Sun. We are now North Pole to North Pole with the Sun. If you take Two strong bar magnets and tape one down on a flat pane of glass then drill a hole in the mid center of the second magnet and place a toothpick or some nonmetallic stick like a straw from a spray can through the hole of the second magnet by holding the straw to move the second magnet around the first magnet starting at 12 o’clock with the poles facing North to North move the second magnet CCW in an elliptical circle around the first magnet you will get some better idea of why the weather and flux fields are now so strange. The first Magnet is the Sun the second with the stick is the Earth the one that moves freely on the pivot. The Sun’s rays are constant, so the position of the Sun in conjunction to tilt of the earth is a key factor as to what gets warmed up and how it affects the flux lines of the Earth. The birds can’t be fooled as to where the flux lines are because there is a sort of magnetic property to their brains. In fact all brains work through magnetics to store memory the Iron in the blood provides the conduit. As we all know iron is magnetic the birds are just more sensitive.

Feb 20, 2013 2:16pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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